CARMAKERS HAVE ALWAYS DESIGNED vehicles for individual drivers and families, not groups of strangers. That could pose a problem going forward. In fact, it already has. Look at the tensions that arose when services like Uber transformed personal rides into public transport. (Lack of privacy, for starters, driver mix-ups for another.) The advent of self-driving cars—vehicles for which codified user interfaces and social norms have yet to emerge—will only complicate matters further. As ride-sharing becomes more popular and autonomous vehicles more capable, one thing becomes clear: Society needs a new kind of car.
A new project from acclaimed design firm Ideo presents one of the most compelling visions to date of an autonomous, ride-sharing future. It places the car at the center of a new marketplace, one where owners of an autonomous vehicle can toggle between ride sharing, car sharing, and private use. Drivers can choose to ride solo or offset the cost of their car by picking up passengers or renting it to others. The passengers, too, can reduce the price of their trips by agreeing to run errands for the owner.
Ideo’s concept envisions what happens when private vehicles become a public resource. “We’re encouraging car manufacturers to start thinking about this notion of designed interiors that facilitate really seamless sharing,” says Danny Stillion, a partner at Ideo, who leads the Future of Automobility project.