In-car parties and moving cubicles are ideas for autonomous cars

Shane Schick
Toronto 43° 38' 54.816" N, -79° 23' 7.3319999999999" E

Once you take your hands off the steering wheel, you have to put them - and your attention - somewhere else. The choice you make may depend in large part upon how old you are.

According to the results of a survey released last month by Carnegie-Mellon University’s College of Engineering, there is still plenty of room for a generation gap inside the smallest of self-driving vehicles. In fact, when researchers looked at how Millennials imagine themselves occupying their time vs. Baby Boomers or those in their late 60s, there were far more differences than similarities.

For Millennials and even those a bit older, for example, self-driving cars may soon become the new cubicle: 37 percent of those under 35 said they wanted vehicles designed for work. That may explain why, in contrast, those in the retirement age bracket of 66-70, meanwhile, pictured themselves reading instead, and those in the 25-35 group see autonomous car trips as an opportunity to kick back and watch a movie.

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‘Life on the go’ and in-car parties

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Donna Sturgess, executive in residence with Carnegie-Mellon’s College of Engineering who helped lead the study, acknowledged that some of the findings might feel in keeping with existing perceptions of certain age groups. However she said confirming these attitudes could be an important step towards meeting the expectations people will have towards self-driving vehicles.

“Some of what you would expect various groups to want was shown even more dramatically in their answers,” she said. “Particularly for Millennials, there was a sense that they foresee being in the car as no different than being at home or at work -- they want to be able to do the same activities seamlessly wherever they are. It’s not just coffee on the go, it’s life on the go.”

As an example, only eight person of those polled wanted a coffee maker in the car, which suggests they don’t necessarily want to spend their entire lives inside a vehicle –though Millennials, being the age they are, also expressed interest in hosting in-car parties.

Weather is the common ground

Despite the variations from the youngest respondents to the eldest, the survey also found considerable common ground. The top most desired feature, for example, was the ability for self-driving cars to adjust their performance based upon weather conditions. Millennials and those 66-70 years old were also hoping for cars that would be able to find their own parking spots.

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Sturgess said there was less emphasis in the research on differences across genders, though the study did note that women tended to show more interest in the safety aspects of self-driving cars. This could be chalked up the role many women have of being the custodians of children or elderly parents. Older people also tended to see self-driving cars as assisting with challenges around night driving and moving through congested routes. These are all areas the research can build upon in future iterations of the survey, she added.

“As we continue to break down data and look at females vs. males, we’ll continue to get a little bit smarter about where we expect the opportunities to lie.”

Dreaming big

Of course, what people say they want from an experience and how they actually behave can be poles apart, but Sturgess said Carnegie Mellon wants those involved in the creation of autonomous vehicles to start dreaming through the possible scenarios as early as possible.

“You need to think beyond the ‘you don’t have to drive’ aspect of it,” she said. “Yes, a car is still there to get you from A to B, but it’s important for car companies to open their imagination to what people want to be doing in those cars.”

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In the meantime, no one is necessarily thinking the transition from traditional cars to self-driving ones will happen without a few speed bumps, so to speak.

“The preoccupation right now is with getting the technology to work,” Sturgess said. “It isn’t as though we’ll wake up and they’ll suddenly be self-driving. There will be incremental steps to self-driving. We’re hoping this kind of data will fuel the need to design those kinds of cars with more intention beyond the autonomous capabilities.” 

And you? What do you expect from self-driving cars?

Topics: Autonomous cars, Features

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