The modern highway system is a cacophony of signage and symbology–exits, speed limits, traffic cones, and lane dividers. Our cars are designed like to cut through this cacophony with our bold self-expression–from the brusque utilitarianism of the Jeep to the opulent lifestyle promoted by those behind the wheel of a Mercedes. I’d argue that cars are over-designed to justify their cost via our reflected personalities in a world filled with too many blinking lights.
But as the robots inevitably take the wheel, the highway landscape can become more tranquil–pastoral, even. And our cars can mirror the world, rather than yell over it.
At least, that’s the vision of Volvo, which commissioned Niels van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe to create a series of concepts, including this reflective car called Outward Looking. It’s a self-driving car with the shell of a one-way mirror.
“…The vehicle no longer claims attention for itself, but reflects the outside world. The spacious interior provides an unobstructed view in all directions and from all positions. The world has changed too: noise barriers and motorway lighting have become superfluous and have disappeared. Everything in the design encourages maximum perception of all this.”
There are no crumple zones because this concept is for a future world without accidents. There are no blinkers, or even eye-catching paint, because there’s no need for drivers or pedestrians to see them. Presumably, software-driven cars could see both us and one another with a slew of technologies that span beyond our limited vision spectrum. So much like the architecture of the World Trade Center grounds, the design is allowed to disappear in a reflective cloak of the world around it.
A series of porthole windows allow unobstructed views out–but it’s easy to imagine the idea taken to its ultimate high-concept conclusion, allowing the rider to look through any of the walls because they are all just one-way mirrors, offering the 360-degree views of a Jetsons vehicle with the privacy equivalent of deeply tinted windows.
Like many other future car concepts we’ve seen, Outward Looking prioritizes the journey over the destination, and the possibilities of taking a ride without needing to drive. But Volvo’s concept is particularly compelling as a living design of an oft-tacit thesis: when all that matters is the journey, who cares what their car looks like? (Especially, I might add, if that car is just operated by Uber anyway.)
And if all that sounds depressing to the car buffs in the audience, I’d point you back to the definition of a vehicle itself: “a thing used for transporting people or goods, especially on land, such as a car, truck, or cart.” Jeep or Mercedes, it’s just a thing. Your experience in it is what matters.