With Google’s self-driving cars long on the road for testing, and Uber calling on Tesla for a driverless fleet, autonomous driving will be the major innovation of our automotive future. And as these vehicles become more popular, cars themselves will evolve, as will our interactions with them. The dashboard will change to fit an entirely new driving experience.
To imagine what that change might look like, we invited a handful of our favorite futurists, experts, and thinkers to share their thoughts on the future of the dashboard.
The All-Ages Automobile
By futurist Amber Case
Free from the need to always have our hands on the wheel and our eyes on the road, the front window will become less about seeing what’s up ahead, and more about keeping passengers occupied. Windshields will be integrated with projected displays for playing games and watching movies, checking office e-mail and other work assignments, and the occasional alert about upcoming locations based on our to-do lists. (Full broadband Internet connectivity, of course, will be essential.)
That means we’ll get a lot more done in our car (like we do in our offices), or we’ll simply be more entertained (as we are in our living rooms). And as cars become more like our offices and living rooms, the dashboard UI will be customizable according to the personal work/school/content consumption preferences of each family member who uses a vehicle.
Since these cars are piloted by computers, driver’s licenses will no longer be mandatory, opening up the possibility for solo passengers too young or otherwise unable to drive. Our dashboards will be customizable and simplified for them, too—so your 92-year-old grandma or your 3-year-old son will easily get to your place simply by touching the onscreen projection of your face.
More Capabilities, Fewer Buttons
By IDEO portfolio director Steve Schwall
Slide into a well-equipped 2015 car and you’ll be greeted by an impressive barrage of glowing screens, buttons, and knobs offering access to hundreds of features. These capabilities have the opportunity to make driving better and safer, but when I talk with new car owners they are often frustrated and overwhelmed by dashboards that seem better suited to airplane cockpits than cars.
The next 10 years will bring even more technologies and capabilities to the in-car experience. However, this doesn't need to bring more confusion and complexity. I believe in-vehicle interfaces are nearing peak complexity. The dashboard of the future will be simple and adaptive. Technology will fade to the background and allow the user to sit back and enjoy the experience.
In the vehicles of the future, information will be freed from screens in the dashboard. While the user is driving, head-up displays and emerging augmented reality technologies will put information in-context and enhance the driver's abilities without getting in the way—think night vision and no blind spots. Learning systems will curate content so only relevant information and actions are presented to the user.
When the car is driving for the user, physical controls like the wheel and pedals will transform to create a more comfortable and functional space while also communicating what is expected of the user. "Relax, there is no wheel to steer!" Rather than being cluttered with entertainment options, the car will act as a support system for brought-in devices, providing wireless power, enhanced connectivity, vehicle data, and—of course—a killer sound system.
Lastly, emerging modes of interaction will further reduce the need for screens and controls. Conventions for gestural interactions will evolve and stabilize, and voice systems will continue to improve exponentially. In 10 years, when a generation of users who can't remember life without Siri or multi-touch is behind the wheel, maybe the dashboard of the future will be no dashboard at all.
Safer, Smarter, and More Personal
By Anshuman Saxena, Director, Product Management and Product Line Manager at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
For years, we’ve been working with automakers to integrate LTE modems into new cars. That added connectivity powers infotainment features and real-time navigation, and personalizes the automotive experience by drawing on content and preferences stored in the phones of drivers or passengers. And once cars are autonomous, these modems will become much more vital.
For one thing, riders in an autonomous car won’t have to pay as much attention to the road as we do now, opening up entertainment options like streaming movies or music–which both require bandwidth.
Of even greater importance is the role LTE modems will play in safety. Autonomous vehicles require dedicated networks for ultra-low latency connections, because even one split second of lag could be very dangerous. Cars will be sharing data like speed, trajectory, and position between one another—what we call vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication—and even a slight delay in transmission could cause a high-speed collision. You could think of it as going momentarily blind while running through a bustling crowd at top speed.
How might this express itself on the dashboard of the future? One might imagine augmented reality overlaid onto the windshield (prime visual real estate in future cars) that would display telematics of surrounding vehicles and roadside infrastructure, to let riders “see” what’s happening as they travel. A recent collaboration between Mini and Qualcomm created AR goggles that allowed drivers to use “X-ray vision,” which was actually a direct connection between the goggles and the on-car cameras, so the driver could look around as though the car were invisible.
For now, you may find a feature like this useful when you’re parking or driving through a narrow space. But consider that when we drive today, although we place a great deal of trust in the drivers around us, we are reassured by our own sense of control. In the future, this reassurance might be provided by AR visualizations of the connections that other vehicles are making between one another. We’ll know that the sedan next to us, which looks like it is veering toward us very quickly, is in communication with our own vehicle and is merely switching lanes.
At Qualcomm Technologies, we’re excited to see what the future will bring for the automotive industry, and we’re very proud to be active players in that process.
Tomorrow’s Car Dashboards
By Clifford Atiyeh, of Car and Driver’s East Coast bureau
In 2025, cars will still look like cars. Designers and engineers dream all day, but their interfaces are years old by the time the finished model arrives. The business demands those models stay in showrooms, largely unchanged, for the next five to seven years. So we will not sink into augmented reality projections on our windshields or enjoy mimosas while in motion. We will still have to drive. Gradual change, not the radical, fully autonomous cars promised today, is our future.
That said, change is afoot. Gesture controls, where we can wave a hand to dismiss a phone call, will be standard on the next BMW 7-series. Our climate and cruise controls will be wired into GPS and high-res maps to anticipate curves, grades, and weather conditions before we do.
Everything that feeds off data, from the car’s operating system to the apps we install, will get updated on the fly without any trips to a dealership. Our cars will store our profiles, much like today’s keys save our personalized settings, only they’ll be transferred to any vehicle we drive. Imagine renting a car on vacation and having all of your destinations, seat adjustments, and radio presets instantly available.
Digital, fully customizable instrument panels will prevail, and voice recognition will become faster and less buggy. All of the fussy electronics on today’s cars will get trashed for good. But we can’t expect too much too soon. Unless you can afford to swap cars every six months, you’ll be stuck with yours for a few years.