The 2016 winter degree show at Pforzheim University in Germany was a chance for the graduating students from one of Europe's top transportation design programs to show off their skills to an industry grappling with massive changes in ownership and technology. It seems that a future of autonomously-driven cars is now a foregone conclusion, as self-driving concepts were so ubiquitous that the ‘human-driven’ car projects stood out from the crowd as an unusual proposition. With that in mind, there were a huge number of variations on what that will mean as we go forward, with implications for the exterior, interior, and service design explored in the final projects.
While arguably most of the challenges of autonomy will come from the car's interior, it was still the exterior that received most of the attention from the graduating students, as the pull towards exotic speedforms and classic automotive styling continue to prove too tempting to pass up. A lack of fully transparent windows accentuates this exterior-first thinking, as anyone who's ever spent time on an advertising-laden bus can tell you that the partially obscured view is far from optimal if you plan on enjoying the scenery. But there were also signs of big changes on the way.
The first and second semester Masters students showed a remarkable range of thinking in regards to our apparently inevitable autonomous future, and professors James Kelley and John Sweeney expressed a clear desire to get the students thinking more about the problems than the appearance of cars going forward into this uncertain future. The real question remains whether the industry itself realises the shift in skills that will be needed for the next generation of cars to fulfill their lofty promises, or whether the very impressive sketching, rendering, 3D and modelmaking skills on show at Pforzheim will continue to take precedence over critical thinking.
Here are the highlights – there are (many) more pictures in the gallery to the right.
MASTERS’ DEGREE THESIS
Hayley Chalmers: Genesis Hana
The Hana project stands out for being a counterpoint to the shift towards autonomous driving. Hayley imagines a future of shared ownership, where drivers will continue to be able to enjoy a car in free-driving environments outside the strictly-controlled self-driving ecosystem. Her Hana is part of a system where the tailor-made interior ‘pod’ would be privately owned and placed inside different shared vehicle chassis to create a personalised experience regardless of the chosen destination or typology.
These environments will be enjoyed as sport, and her pod design is focused on the rituals and experiences surrounding sport, with tie-downs and interactions designed to replicate the tying of shoelaces or strapping on of a horse's saddle. In a future of shared self-driving cars, the Hana explores how enthusiasts will continue personalised driving pleasure.
Hyeryung Hur | Volkswagen Itinerant
In a future where many people may not get a driving license, the Volkswagen Itinerant sets out to create an autonomous experience purely for the passive passenger — whether on a long road trip with friends or an off-road excursion. The shapes of the exterior and interior are inspired by a catamaran’s dual hulls and the all-glass canopy allows passengers to experience the outdoors with maximum exposure. A high-riding two-box shape was chosen for maximum adaptability and interior volumes allow for a luxurious lounge-like space for friends to share.
Dennis Yu | Lamborghini Electric Vision
How can a brand focused on driving reinvent itself for the electric autonomous age? Dennis Yu’s Lamborghini takes the design language back to a softer style inspired by early cars like the Miura and maximises the ‘driver’s’ feel for the forces the car is creating through its extreme performance. By placing the single seat under a glass dome just behind the front axle, the passive autonomous experience is just as exciting as the human driven one today. Visually, the car is designed to express its EV underpinnings through subtle details like the lighting, while the clamshell cockpit that splits the car in two volumes and aggressive aero signal its sporting intentions.
Felix Daroca | VW Futuro
Felix Daroca's Futuro concept explores the new form language that a future autonomous Volkswagen might take, with softer surfacing and two main volumes intersecting to give a visual exclamation point to the aerodynamically-oriented shape. The overall shape is very long and low for maximum efficiency, with the lack of DLO (a common theme at Pforzheim this year) giving both privacy to the occupants and visual continuity to the exterior.
Weiran Lee | Infiniti ArtistiQ Inspiration
A pure form study, Weiran Lee explored how far Infiniti’s volume and surface language could be pushed to create new designs for the brand. The ArtistiQ Inspiration uses extreme positive and negative forms to replicate how light is affected by gravity's pull. As such, the reflections along the car’s bodyside also dance and twist in unexpected ways much like liquid metal might. The concept uses tightly-integrated detailing with a copper finish to indicate its electric powertrain and has special lighting designed to indicate whether the car is in autonomous or human-driven mode.
Anna Beresina | Carreau
Carreau is a far-future vision for the interior of an autonomous (but piloted) endurance racing series with flying vehicles. It uses a holographic HMI to keep the driver engaged with a constant stream of data and uses a cocoon-like cockpit and wishbone-like over-shoulder harness to keep pilots safe during the race. The concept is beautifully designed, with modern form language and on-trend materials, though it remains unclear why an autonomous endurance racing series in 2053 will need a pilot at all.
BACHELOR'S DEGREE THESIS
John Hannes | Bentley Hyperion
Based on the idea of the Ekranoplan—the Soviet-era ground-effect vehicles designed for low-level flight across the Black Sea—the Hyperion imagines a future Bentley that uses a similar ground-effect system to fly just above the ground at very high speeds in the spirit of grand tourers of the past. The car uses a familiar Bentley design language but integrates the massive wings needed to lift the car into the underbody and fenders, while the main body acts as a de-facto fuselage that cuts across the wings. Since the car doesn't fly at normal road speeds, normal wheels and tires are used, but covered, for aerodynamic efficiency. This is an interesting take on the future of driving and how flying cars might first take off.
Niklas Ihle | Singularity
The singularity is the term given for the moment that artificial intelligence "overtakes" human intelligence. Niklas Ihle's Singularity concept explores what cars might be like when this happens—an autonomous system of shared vehicles that flex and change and adapt depending on the needs of the passengers within and the city outside. The car features a monovolume "cell" made from artificial muscles to create an infinitely-variable cabin space, while the exterior features panels with gaps designed to separate or tighten around that cabin space. The lack of fixed shape allows barrier-free entry to those with limited mobility and a "companion" robot helps with tasks inside the car.
Katherina Sachs | Volvo Navis
As a response to growing urbanisation, Katherina Sachs’ Volvo Navis is a luxury SUV designed to bring the Scandinavian sailing tradition and spirit of freedom to the urban driver. Its design is directly derived from the shapes of yachts and jets, for a pure, simplified form language that projects authority and independence while also bringing aerodynamic efficiency. The exterior features no visible DLO, which gives maximum privacy and sense of security to passengers in the harsh urban environment, while the all-glass roof and classic Volvo glass tailgate simultaneously make the interior feel airy and open. A vehicle to escape the urban megacity either literally or psychologically.
Marco Braun | Toyota
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? According to Marco Braun, it’s this Toyota concept, designed to be a visual interpretation of a rebellious attitude meeting the inevitable forward movement of technology. He envisions a car that embraces a fun driving experience in the face of a common shared-vehicle world where cars have become appliances. Inspired by the spirit (and fist) of Muhammed Ali, the car itself takes onboard all of the expected future tech from flywheel electric drive to autonomy, but explores how the design language might move forward through the literal interpretation of a metaphor. Of particular note are Marco’s exceptional sketches that use a comic-book style to transform Muhammed Ali’s fist into automotive forms.
Mattia Lusci | Smart supercar2go
Smart has always been a brand that set itself apart, and Mattia Lusci took full advantage of the brand’s playfulness when creating the supercar2go concept. The concept uses autonomous driving tech only to get to the driver, who then takes over the controls while seated in a ‘soft tridion’ structure created through 3D-printed textile-like material. This ‘hanging cabin’ allows passengers to experience a heightened sense of exhilaration and returns the fun to the shared-ownership experience. The car also uses gamification to encourage interaction and a sense of community between users. When the ride is over, the car drives itself back to a facility where it is wirelessly charged and the self-cleaning and self-healing materials can get ready for the next drive. The used of real custom-designed 3D-printed materials to create the soft tridion cell and interior of the model really brought this concept to life in a way that wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago.
Tobias Neukamm | Alfa Romeo 3E
Alfa Romeo has long been considered a must-have for petrolheads, so Tobias Neukamm's brief to design an electric Alfa without losing the spirit of the brand could be a hard sell. The design focuses on the soft and sensual forms from the brand’s heyday in the 1960s, while incorporating modern detailing such as visible electric motors and prominent ‘driving mode indicators’ on the bodyside and roof. The dramatic use of color to emphasise the two intertwined volumes is accentuated by the halftone-patterned windscreen, which would certainly be an interesting conversation to have with regulators. The overall impression is of a classic Alfa Romeo sportscar with formally modern surfacing and futuristic detailing. Would it be enough to convince the hardcore Alfisti to go electric?
Viet Tran | Porsche type 38F
Another entry into the discussion of autonomous experiences for sports cars is Viet Tran’s intriguing Porsche Type 38F. He argues that although Porsche has vowed not to make an autonomous 911, that by using the most advanced technology, algorithms, and electric powertrain, a future autonomous Porsche could once again deliver the visceral feel of older 911s, without the fear of spinning off into a hedge at the next bend. The overall shape is familiar as a 911, but the surfacing and design language takes on a much sharper tone than previous models, and the aerodynamically-designed nose will warm the heart of 1980s 930 slant nose lovers. The lack of windows to create the DLO creates a bit of a dilemma however, as clearly the trademark of the car is diminished, leaving just an outline to trace the familiar shape. Would side windows not simply make the Porsche statement (and driving experience) better? That's up to the next generation to decide.
Daniel Frintz | Urban gravity bike
When we all live in overcrowded megacities, how will we get our thrills? Daniel Frintz imagines a new kind of urban mountain bike scene that uses advanced materials, electric drive and magnetic suspension to create an infinitely customisable riding experience for all kinds of riders. Spurred on by a gamified digital cluster, the urban gravity bike will foster competition and challenges for all types of riders. Additionally, the bike, which consists entirely of solid-state components, will monitor and notify the user of potential problems or parts that may need replacing or servicing.