Having spent three weeks with family households sketching out potential autonomous vehicle use cases. Jasper Dekker, senior interaction designer at Smart Design outlines the insight gained from this experience.

Households with young children hold on to their cars, even in denser urban areas where car ownership is not only expensive but impractical. This is not necessarily about convenience, but need. Cars are the only easy solution to get from A to B, with many members of the household depending on the main driver. Children and elderly parents are often not independent or able to move about themselves. Safety is also a concern. The result is the generation in the middle, the children’s parents or carers, often become the family’s ‘taxi driver’.

What if we fast forward in time and insert autonomous vehicles into this scenario? During Smart’s research with families, we learned they would be hugely impacted by this. Here are our three favourite examples:

Drivers to coordinators

The typical role of the parents during a road trip are driving, navigating, and attending to the children. If we take the first two out of the equation, and the parents just coordinate the trip, they can dedicate as much attention and energy to the children as they like or need.

More parts could be coordinated than just the time, destination and route however. The layout of the vehicle could change to a circle, for example, where all members of the household face each other as they travel. A moveable configuration could also allow families to opt for privacy or design the car in such a way that caters for those suffering from motion sickness.

To further stretch the scale of privacy versus social interaction, you could imagine two or more smaller, but separate, vehicles following each other closely as if they were one. Sometimes quality time doesn’t mean that everyone travels in the same space. It could mean that while the children entertain themselves or sleep, the parents take this opportunity to spend time with each other or get some rest themselves.

Independence for everyone

As well as driving their children round, we saw plenty of parents also taking care of the mobility needs of their elderly family and friends. The individual needs for both the generation preceding and succeeding them create scheduling pains and ultimately remove their own independence. Furthermore, the children and their grandparents are limited to the journeys the driver can provide.

Automated vehicles could provide a triple-win for the independence of family members. As the older generation of the family start to lose their independence through reduced mobility, they increasingly rely on their children. With access to automated vehicles, the oldest generation can maintain its independence as it allows them to control when and where they go.

Jasper Dekker

The youngest generation can – particularly when teenagers – gain the independence of their ‘having’ own car and driving licence much sooner than at present, as they will be able to move around in an automated vehicle from whatever the set legal minimum age is. This, in turn, allows their parents to regain their independence and flexibility as responsibility for the school run, getting to after-school activities, or driving their parents to the train station is reduced or even removed.

Parenting and mobility

Part of parents driving their children around is about being in control of their safety. Building on mobile technology, this control and the inherent peace of mind could be extended when children travel on their own. Parents could keep track of the journey’s progress on a mobile app or simply get a message once their child has reached school. Parents could go as far as seeing a live video feed from inside the vehicle.

Also, depending on the children’s ages, parents could be in control of the booking of a journey or choosing the route, or perhaps for older children – approving a booking made by them.

This presents the opportunity of parental control of mobility. The control over where their children can go, at what time of day and with whom, allows parents to gradually expose the children to new responsibilities. Alternatively, a mileage allowance could be set to provide the freedom, but with a cap, so rides become conscious decisions. You can imagine a family plan for mobility, not dissimilar from Netflix, where all members can benefit from a single account with one person administering it.

Ultimately, vehicles will always be needed by households. With the rise of automated vehicles, and a digital access layer to them, this will be continued and enriched. A well-designed system that takes all the members of a household or family into account allows people to move away from ownership into an access model that can be optimised to benefit everyone.

The research which led to this article was supported by Haley Rasmussen.

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The author of this blog is Jasper Dekker, senior interaction designer at Smart Design

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