Google Phone Designers Envision Self-Driving Electric Concept Car

The launch of the Google (s GOOG) G1 phone, which the firm Mike and Maaike helped Google design, came after years of speculation and months of waiting. Now the San Francisco-based design firm that had such influence on the look of the G1 has come up with the Autonomobile, a concept for a futuristic, self-driving, low-speed electric vehicle that will probably never get built but could offer some inspiration for companies developing cleaner transportation technology.


GigaOM writer and founder Om Malik described the G1 phone as the equivalent of the Honda to the iPhone’s BMW last fall in his review of the device. The Autonomobile is no Honda. The concept, intended for 2040, according to Design Magazine’s Dezeen blog (h/t Fast Company), and envisioned as “the end of driving,” is pretty out there when you consider the hurdles ahead for plug-in versions of the models we already drive. Mike and Maaike’s design nonetheless offers an interesting assembly of some real-world strategies for the future of transportation and reducing vehicle emissions.

Mike and Maaike have taken off in the opposite direction from Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley-based startup that has helped generate excitement about electric vehicles by using the technology to produce a high-performance sports car with a sleek body from Lotus. For the Autonomobile, by contrast, Mike and Maaike “set out to design a concept car which questions current obsessions of speed, styling and driving in search of an optimistic new future.” As Dezeen notes, this search for new performance measurements led the designers to “focus on quality of time while in traffic and transit.”


What they came up with is a seven-seat lounge pod meant to allow comfortable productivity or social time while you’re stuck in traffic or rolling along at moderate speeds. The premise is that it’s rare that we use our cars’ max acceleration or MPH, so we might as well give up some of that performance in favor of a more relaxing, efficient ride. The Autonomobile has no steering wheel, brake pedal or driver seat, and to provide more interior space, Mike and Maaike envision electric motors in each wheel and energy (some of it generated using rooftop solar panels) stored beneath the vehicle floor.

So how to you navigate a car with no steering wheel or accelerator? The idea is to have a screen that asks passengers when they get into the pod “Where can I take you?” and then have a GPS system and robotics take care of the rest. The concept also includes “voice recognition and a touchscreen remote control (or one’s personal phone), offering riders a wide range of trip planning, ride sharing and performance settings” through an open-source software platform.

This kind of smarter vehicle software certainly isn’t as alien as the Autonomobile’s hardware design — Microsoft (s MSFT) deployed its smart Sync system in Ford (s F) vehicles last year, and EV infrastructure startup Better Place is developing software that it says will, among other things, dynamically identify nearby available charging stations for subscribers to its battery charge-and-swap plan. (For a deeper look at next-gen vehicle intelligence as a tool for cleaning up transportation, check out our latest Long View in the Green IT section of GigaOM Pro, subscription only).

We don’t expect to see anything like the Autonomobile on the road anytime soon. But if it offers vehicle designers some food for thought and helps foster creative applications of technology for cleaner transportation, that seems like a worthwhile concept. The challenge is to avoid distracting investments in vaporware in a time when the real deal is long overdue.

autonomobile-exterior-whiteGraphics credit Mike and Maaike