Kyle Jepson recently asked some questions that I’ll try to answer over the next few weeks.
The first is:
The interior of Google’s self-driving car puzzles me. With all the innovation going on under the hood, I would have expected the passenger area to look less like a normal car. For example, why are there still seat belts? (Safety regulations, I assume, but there’s clearly some sort of dispensation there for buses and subways — could that somehow be applied to autonomous vehicles?) Why do people still sit in forward-facing bucket seats? (Is that a safety thing, too? Since no one has to watch the road, why not have facing rows so people can talk? Or sectional-style seating that goes around the perimeter? Or cafe-style seating around a table?)
Washington Post writer Matt McFarland published photos of the car interior from a community event that Google held about a year ago.
In response to Kyle’s questions, I think a lot of the interior design decisions boil down to laws and regulations.
As Kyle presumes, Federal law requires that all vehicles except buses have seat belts for designated seating positions. I don’t see a specific definition for what constitutes a “bus”, but I think the Google car pretty clearly isn’t one.
My guess is that the Google car has its seats facing the road so that they can take over control manually. Apparently, state and Federal laws require driver control devices in the car, and I’m sure Google wants a human driver to be able to take control during testing. Given the size of the Google car, if the driver is facing forward, there really isn’t room for anybody else to face in a different direction.
But I think Kyle’s onto something once the cars move into production mode and become safer.
Right now, Google’s focus is on getting the self-driving technology to work, and that goal is best-served by a relatively familiar vehicle interior.
Once the cars work well, and consumers are comfortable with the concept, I think we might see some pretty cool interior designs.
Anybody else want to sleep in a self-driving bed?