If you’ve been following car news at all these past five years, you’ll know that “autonomous driving” is the hottest new buzz word around town – it almost seems like every other carmaker is doing some form of it. Don’t see it? Even the recently-launched Proton X50 boasts a “Level 2” autonomous driving capability.

While we might still be quite some time away with complete self driving cars (sorry Tesla, your Full Self Driving autonomous system is misleading), a common theme in these research test mules is that they all look and function pretty much like any other car on the road. Heck, even the Roborace autonomous racing series ditched its super cool driver cell-less prototype for a car that looks like a normal LMP1 race car.

In an attempt to rethink what an autonomous car of the future may look like, Lexus teamed up with TED Fellows program, a “global multidisciplinary group of thought leaders”, to dream up a couple of possibilities. The two fellows that Lexus paired up with were Greg Gage, a neuroscientist, engineer, and roboticist, as well as Sarah Sandman, who works as an artist and designer. Their brief? Prioritize people over technology.

Gage’s idea resembles something that came out from a dystopian sci-fi future, where everything is connected directly to our brains. By using a “brain-car” interface that detects a range of human signals, from our heartbeats to face microgestures, Gage envisions the car to react and change its ambience, based on our emotions.

For example, the car could automatically recline the seats when it detects that the occupant is feeling sleepy, or shut off the radio and turn on the interior lighting when the occupant is feeling stressed out.

Sandman’s idea is slightly less left field, but still equally abstract. She envisions the car of the future to be a glasshouse of sorts, filled with swivelling chairs and happy people – think your favourite coffee shop.

Sandman says that in a world where we are increasingly being sucked into our mobile devices, the natural communication devices such as a simple waving gesture to the pedestrians have already been lost. The design aims to increase interaction with people both inside and outside of the “car”, the latter by using a speaker system and even a chalk-writing system to leave custom art or messages in the street.

Aside from the moving coffee shop, Sandman also proposes a cooperative ownership model that not only increases affordability, but also inclusivity while promoting communication.

What do you think of Lexus’ autonomous “car” of the future? Sure, they might be a bit far-fetched, but out-of-the-box thinkers have always pushed us forward in almost every industry. We can’t wait to see what the future holds, but a small part of us does feel quite disappointed that the pure driving experience is getting pushed away – hey, we’re driving enthusiasts after all.


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Woon
Believes that a car is more than just numbers and facts, it's about the emotions they convey. Any car can be the right car for someone, but he'll probably pick a hot hatch over anything else.