by futurist consultant Ersan Seer


Design & Technology of Autonomous Vehicles of the Future – Driverless Cars (Part 5/6)

Autonomous Vehicle - Cylindrical Shape
Note: Click above graphic to see the full-sized infographic.

This article is the fifth in a series about driverless, autonomous cars—that is, cars with the intelligence and technology to drive themselves (and you) safely to your destination—and how these vehicles will completely change your notion of travel, work and home.

  1. Google’s Driverless Cars Will Change Everything
  2. How Future Autonomous Cars Will Change Travel
  3. Automated Vehicles Will Change How We Work
  4. Automated Cars Will Redefine “Home”
  5. Design & Technology of Autonomous Vehicles of the Future
  6. Consequences of Intelligent Transport

Future design is a tricky subject. Which products will be invented? How will they look? These topics are nearly overwhelming to tackle with the imagination, even for me, a habitual forward-thinker.

Let’s try anyway. My goal here is not to be correct in our predictions about autonomous vehicles. Let’s just imagine and see where that takes us.

As a starting point, we can look at current-day progressions. By that I mean current technological and aesthetic movements which we’re already a part of. From these we can infer what the future holds.

Aesthetics of Autonomous Cars of the Future: Slick & Sleek

Aesthetics of the Future

Computers used to look awful, didn’t they? Clunky. Puke beige.

TVs, cellphones, and many other electronics used to look ugly as well.

But today they all look pretty.

As cars evolve from the glorified go-karts they are today to actual mobile offices and mobile houses, we will see them grow slicker and sleeker like our other household electronics and appliances.

Autonomous Cars Will Be Fast & Safe!

Confucius say:
Autonomous car fast like arrow. Safe like padded room.

Let’s talk about the “fast.”

Mag Lev Train
From Wikipedia:

Maglev (derived from magnetic levitation) is a system of transportation that uses magnetic levitation to suspend, guide and propel vehicles with magnets rather than using mechanical methods, such as wheels, axles and bearings.

In other words, trains floating on magnets. This isn’t theoretical. Maglev trains have been in use since 1984. Maglev technology provides faster speeds with lower maintenance (from less wear-and-tear from friction) than current wheel & axle technology.

Who’s to say we won’t use maglev on our autonomous cars?

Another way to think of autonomous cars is as “personal trains.” In the future we will have ultra highways. Your autonomous, maglev-equipped car will take you to a waiting station. After a brief wait you’ll enter a vaccuumed chamber then be whisked away like superman after a quad shot latte.

Sound like science fiction? Companies are already developing “vactrain” technologies—which, in theory, could send vehicles whizzing along at 4000-5000mph.

Long, Cylindrical Shape = Fast

I envision a long cylindrical shape like the concept art at the top of this article, perhaps with half-spherical ends so either end can be the “front.” Or maybe one end will taper to a point, making the car a sort of elongated teardrop shape. It will have a high slenderness ratio for less pressure drag (the drag of wind pushing against the front, which is the drag that really slows you down) and more shear force drag (the frictional drag along the sides, the drag that doesn’t slow you down much).

Simply put, it will be long and thin so the wind doesn’t slow it down much.

I’m not done with the topic of “fast” yet. Check this out:

It appears that we’re going to reach a land speed record of 1,000mph in the year 2030. Click below for the full infographic which shows how I’ve worked it out:
Land Speed Records Teaser

Note: the above graph represents a curious series of coincidences. They are compelling, but we cannot totally rely on them. The future is always uncertain. It’s possible we’ll see huge spikes in land speed records the next 10-20 years; maybe we just haven’t reached those tipping points yet.

Powerhouse Computer Brains = Really Safe

By the time autonomous vehicles become the norm, computers will be so advanced they’ll make today’s supercomputers look like solar-powered calculators.

Most of this computing power will be dedicated to protecting the car’s precious cargo—you.

Safety will evolve, by necessity.

A raising of safety standards will be necessary. Auto crashes must become extremely rare. Why? Because inside your autonomous car you’ll be walking around, without a seatbelt, surrounded by dirty knives, forks and other sharp objects, and breakable items perched precariously on shelves. And you’ll be going 300mph. Damage can’t be mitigated much if you crash in this situation.

Auto crashes will have to be rarer than plane crashes are today—so rare that when an auto crash happens, it will make international news.

Today’s safety strategy = make damage from accidents less severe.

Future safety strategy = prevent auto accidents from happening in the first place.

A combination of GPS and technology within all roads will constantly feed information to the oncoming autonomous vehicle about what it can expect: sharp turns, felled trees, stray dogs… spontaneous wormholes… anything that could cause an accident. Risk-averting Artificial Intelligence will quickly determine the best course of action to take in facing any threat.

Deceleration and acceleration will be very gradual, but we’ll still have numerous other technologies preventing drops and falls from within. For example:

  • The insides of the car may tilt slightly away from any force causing acceleration, to assist in cementing your precious breakable antiques in place.
  • All hard, upward-facing interior surfaces of the car may be pressure-sensitive and intelligently flexible, automatically creating a suction effect on objects placed on them.
  • Dishes will be created with unbreakable materials, perhaps plastics that look and feel like ceramic.
  • Through it all, an AI will be regularly communicating with its passenger(s). “John, there’s a herd of deer crossing the road half a mile ahead. Prepare for deceleration.”

The next—and last—post muses on the social implications of driverless cars. It will tackle traffic, being late, drunk driving, and include some morbid tongue-in-cheekiness on how driverless cars may make small dogs obese. :)

Read the next post →
Driverless Cars (Part 6/6): Consequences of Intelligent Transport: the Good and the Bad

Start from the beginning →
Driverless Cars (Part 1/6): Google’s Cars Will Change Everything



Sidenote from the author:

Like the articles? Disagree with me? Tell me how I did in the comments below!

Ersan Seer

Ersan Seer is a futurist consultant, coolhunter, market researcher, strategic advisor, and concept artist. Ersan hungers to make the future world a more peaceful, survivable place.  → Read More & Book Ersan Seer

3 Responses to Design & Technology of Autonomous Vehicles of the Future – Driverless Cars (Part 5/6)

  1. Sally Mason says:

    I’ve been meaning to compliment you on the concept art. You’ve done a fabulous job with perspective, texture and contrast, and because I know how hard they are to draw/render, I’m especially impressed with the realistic reflections. What software did you use? I’m sure your readers would like to hear more about their development.

    With Article 5 you seem more willing to address the design problems and dangers inherent in this technology. This is good, because as I read about driverless cars traveling at high speed while depending on computers and software for navigation and safety, I can’t help thinking of Murphy’s Law: “If things can go wrong, they will, and at the worst possible time”.

    I take heart from the recent Mars landing, an extremely complex series of remotely controlled events that went off with nary a hitch. Hey, if they can get Curiosity safely from Earth to the surface of Mars, maybe they can get my driverless car safely from Denver to San Francisco!

    • Ersan Seer says:

      Thank you Sally. It’s all Photoshop. The perspective was calculated by lines… it does take more time than people think. :)

      Driverless Car Interior Perspective Grid

      We have a long way to go to ensure the kind of safety needed for driverless cars. But I still think it’ll happen within the next couple decades! I hope so. Can’t wait til I can kick back and relax while speeding down the highway. Cruise control just doesn’t satisfy………..

  2. HENRI ENGEL says:

    Hi Ersan,

    I’ve read your articles about self driving cars with great pleasure.

    As the spectrum of “applications and things to do ” is much wider than automotive OEM only I’ve started a network group on Linkedin > Self Driving Cars.
    400+ members from all over joined in 10 days with a mixed/high degree of seniority.
    I invite group members to post actively to get discussions started.
    Be it Robotics or Legislation , Insurance , ICT route (Google) vs Automotive OEM , Ethics , Mechatronics , AI , AR , GIS etc….
    Perhaps you would like to join and share some thoughts/vision

    Also feel free to connect on Linkedin ,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eight × 7 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>