Self-driving or autonomous cars and trucks are coming, and soon. Not only are the number of firms developing the technology increasing, regulatory barriers and public skepticism are receding, and the initial rollout of the vehicles is proceeding successfully.
As I write this, Google brethren and early market-leader Waymo has driverless, level-4 autonomous vans roaming the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, with plans to expand and achieve fully autonomous, level-5 functioning in the near term.
Self-Driving Technology May Change The Way We Live Overall
But what about self-driving or autonomous motorhomes, or mobile homes, here meaning more than mere recreational vehicles? As autonomous vehicle technology proliferates, self-driving mobile homes cannot be far behind, and perhaps with far-reaching consequences. After all, if we could live and move in our homes, and not have to drive or steer them, many of us might choose to no longer have fixed homes, and to live far more mobile or location-flexible lives than we do today.
Consider some of the potential key features of mobile living, if we could live and work, and not have to drive, as we move:
+ Reduced housing costs
+ No land ownership or upkeep
+ No need for separate vehicles
+ Ability to live in diverse settings
? More varied daily experiences
? Lighter ecological footprint
– Need to re-create community
– Increased transportation costs
As you can see from this list, mobile living in autonomous vehicles offers a number of potential benefits, but comes with important questions and issues. Perhaps most notable among potential benefits, housing costs may be reduced, and perhaps greatly, compared to fixed-residence living. With the move to mobile life, there would be no traditional home taxes or rent to pay, or a need to have separate vehicles, other than the ones we live in. And by its nature, mobile living also might open up the world to us in new ways, and potentially increase the richness of our experiences and daily lives.
Toyota’s Self-Driving e-Palette Concept…Small Jump To Mobile Homes (Info)
At the same time, we must understand that such a change could be disruptive to traditional community, though it may afford us more flexibility to spend time with loved-ones far from us today. And while mobile living might allow us to have a lighter ecological footprint overall – in terms of both resource consumption and our impact on the natural landscape – this clearly depends on the designs and resource needs of our mobile homes. But in any case, mobile living is of course likely to increase transportation costs, including those related to maintaining our modern roadway infrastructure.
As these considerations underscore, the specific designs of self-driving mobile homes will be critical not just to the comfort and convenience of autonomous mobile living, but to its economic appeal and ecological impacts as well. Autonomous mobile homes of the future could seek to re-create conventional fixed homes, as many mobile home designs do today, and thus be large and resource-intensive. If this is our general approach, autonomous mobility will prove more costly, less green, and less location-flexible than is otherwise possible.
On the other hand, autonomous mobile home designers could borrow from or extend current trends in green, minimalist, and nomadic living – including the tiny home and van-dwelling movements – and instead produce self-driving mobile homes that are compact and have a much lower energy footprint. In this approach, self-driving mobile homes could be far greener and less intrusive than traditional living, require less work and effort to maintain than fixed homes, and even be autonomous in terms of energy use, and not only their ability to self-navigate roadways.
With this latter prospect in mind, I would like to offer a brief study in how compact, low-cost, energy-efficient, and location-flexible autonomous mobile homes might quickly evolve from the coming new generation of autonomous cars, minivans, and utility vehicles. This is of course only one potential path for this development, but my hope is that the study will increase interest in exploring this topic more fully by architects, designers, and entrepreneurs.
Autonomous cars are far enough along now that we can begin to see more clearly how they are likely to emerge, especially once self-driving technology evolves from being simply an add-on to existing car designs. For example, steering wheels and other traditional vehicle controls will no longer be needed, freeing interior space and allowing passengers to adopt different seating arrangements. Windshields and rear windows will be unnecessary too – increasing vehicle safety, aerodynamic efficiency, thermal performance. and available area for solar energy collection. And owing to the prospect of simultaneous vehicle electrification – with batteries placed beneath vehicle floors and small motors at or near vehicle wheels – we can expect traditional motor compartments to be eliminated or reduced in size as well.
Prototype Layout For Fully Autonomous, Self-Driving Automobile
The sketch at the top of the page and the layout study immediately above seek to envision how these changes might combine to affect self-driving car design. As you can see, traditional side door and window placement is retained, but the passenger seats are re-oriented toward the center of the vehicle, allowing passengers to face and more naturally interact with one another. This particular redesign opportunity is of course now well-appreciated, and you can see how an extra row of seats might be added at the front or back, with a lengthening of the vehicle, allowing for increased seating capacity.
Somewhat less appreciated today is the idea that, with this reorientation of vehicle seating, seats could also be made to fold flat and thus create lounging or sleeping surfaces, or create added space for moving large items. As you might imagine, this is an easy design step and one likely to find high demand.
Still even less appreciated is how quickly and easily the transition to a compact autonomous mobile home is achieved, once the above design elements are realized. In the second layout study below, the first vehicle design study is widened and lengthened slightly, allowing a full aisle at the center of the vehicle and a small kitchen and bathroom at the front and rear. A movable and removable center table is not shown, but would be a desirable design feature.
Layout Is Easily Extended To Create A Compact Mobile Home
Depending on seat design, this compact mobile home could accommodate as many as 4 adults, though privacy would be at a minimum and thus sustained housing for 1-2 adults would be more typical, perhaps plus a young child or two. However, expansion of the concept is of course possible, either by lengthening the vehicle and creating multiple sitting and sleeping areas or by having one or more separate sitting and sleeping pods in tow. Such additions of course would reduce the compactness and efficiency of the vehicle, but likely also would reduce energy-use on a per person basis.
Whether a fully mobile lifestyle is for you, today or in the future, is a partly personal, partly economic decision. As mentioned before, nomadic living is on the rise in many parts of the world – as a response to high traditional housing costs, increased freedom from internet economics, disinterest in traditional community, and/or a desire for greater independence and diversity of experiences.
In any case, modern industrial and information technology is enabling this change now, and the availability of self-driving or autonomous vehicle technology is almost sure to increase the appeal and practicality of nomadic living and mobile homes – fostering new experiments not only in technological autonomy, but in human autonomy as well.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura.
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