Lego, Crayola, and Others Imagine Autonomous Cars of 2050 in Futuristic Design Challenge

The 2016 LA Auto Show Design Challenge showed some innovative and bizarre concepts for 2050s travel

4 min read
LA Auto Show Design Challenge
Illustration: Los Angeles Auto Show

For those of us more interested in the far future than the near future or present (both of which tend to be comparatively dull), the best part of the Los Angeles Auto Show is the annual design challenge. There, we see the creations of curiously matched teams of designers that have a year to develop a concept that addresses nebulous questions about cars and the future. If you've ever wondered what Crayola, Fandango, or Lego think the car of 2050 might look like, you’re about to find out.

Each of the five teams of designers has had the past year to cobble together a short film under the overall theme of “Autonomous Vehicles: A Redefined User Experience for 2050.” Their aim was to somehow tackle a few extraordinarily vague questions: 

  • How will the city of Los Angeles evolve to accommodate for autonomous transportation?
  • What kinds of experiences will people be able to have within autonomous vehicles?
  • What are the vehicles that enable these experiences like?
  • How will the vehicle and in-vehicle experience fundamentally transform people’s lives?

As with most design challenges, these questions generally go unanswered, but the videos are fun to watch anyway. Here are all five, ordered from most to least interesting.

Team Honda, Lego, & Trigger

Rather than doing any work themselves, Lego, Honda, and Trigger conscripted a bunch of kids to build vehicles out of Legos, and then harvested design ideas from what the kids came up with. It’s a bit excessive, even for 2050, but looks like a lot of fun:

Team Crayola & Qoros

A more tempered vision for 2050, Crayola & Qoros see “a future where machines and computers will have assumed most standard tasks,” meaning that “artistic ability, imagination, and creativity will have become highly valued skills.” 

In the middle of the passenger compartment is a haptic air hologram interface, which seems like it could plausibly exist by 2050. Also plausible is the lack of seat belts, since car accidents will have ceased to happen by then.

Team Fandango & Jaunt VR

Fandango and Jaunt didn’t get the 2050 memo, and instead decided to explore “what does the movie-going experience look like in the year 2036” and “what are the social implications.” Besides the idea that the BMW i3 will be around for the next two decades, this concept seems very plausible:

The team released this statement:

Our combined vision re-imagines a traditional drive-in movie theater. In our concept, autonomous cars replace the current system of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, but are sponsored by companies such as Fandango for specific drive-in events. The entertainment experience then begins the moment the customer steps into the car. These autonomous ‘movie cars’ are outfitted with windows that transform into extraordinary virtual reality and augmented reality experiences that replace traditional movie trailers. Complete with movie snacks and cold beverages, this new form of travel becomes part of the main event as well as a premier marketing tool.

Team CH Auto & Creative Mobile

There had to be flying cars somewhere in this design challenge. Here they are:

Team CH Auto and Creative Mobile’s description of their brainchild:

Your relocator (i.e. vehicle) will have enhanced capabilities to travel on conventional roads, maglev paths, and be sky lifted by drone retrieval units. Clothing will have embedded materials and sensors to allow you to “float” in your vehicle. This will allow the vehicle to travel at any angle or upside down in the maglev tube while the driver remains upright. Combine this with a holographic environment, and now you can virtually snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef while commuting. Audio, tactile, temperature and aroma libraries provide the final sensory input to maximize the pleasure. 

Team KTM & Kiska

This last one is a little bit abstract, and some context from the designers is necessary to have any idea what’s going on in the video:

In 2050, just 36 years from today, we will be living in a completely different world. Autonomous technology has created cars that drive safely on the roads, minimizing accidents, and can fly through the air, reducing congestion. People get from point A to B with ease. It’s the dawn of a safe, controlled, and completely boring method of transportation.

That’s why the population of downtown LA migrated to its surroundings – leaving the city and its infrastructure behind. Empty buildings and dilapidated structures fill once full city blocks. It’s a ghost town. One day of the year is special however: race day. The city awakens. Flooded with light and people, the air crackles with excitement.

[Specially equipped autonomous vehicles that race] through buildings, doing rad tricks and making bold moves, are given likes from spectators from their mobile devices. [These thumbs-up votes are] displayed in the riders’ visors,  [propelling them to push the vehicles] to even higher feats of performance as their vehicles get an energy boost. The rider who collects the most likes and consumes the least amount of energy within 100 laps is the winner. 

Huh. I haven’t heard the word “rad” used in a while.

Are any of these ideas even the least bit practical? Maybe. As the past has shown us, it’s hard to make any predictions about practicality 36 years into the future. But of these five, we’re reasonably sure that Fandango & Jaunt VR’s concept is going to happen a lot sooner than that. When autonomous cars remove the need for humans to actively participate in driving, there’s no reason not to turn the entire car into a 360 degree movie theater. It’ll make travel something to look forward to: Why not drive an hour to a restaurant if the trip doubles as pre- and post-dinner entertainment? 

Part of the design challenge’s judging criteria was “feasibility of concept to enter market by 2050,” but somehow the winner was Team Honda, Lego, & Trigger. If nothing else, we can certainly agree that all practicality aside, their design was totally the raddest.

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