The Circular Couch Theory
I have been discussing the importance of the interior design in autonomous vehicles for five years. Part of that was to think up eventual design decisions that come up when consequently applying focus and reduction to the essence of what is needed in a smart room on smart wheels – the term used by Neil Cybart and a few others when describing the closest metaphor to future self-driving cars.
Initially, I followed the pipe dream that an interior could basically consist of anything imaginable – once the square room that I and others envisioned will drive itself, what we can use the inside for is really up to individual needs.
Using Steve Jobs’ quote from his iPhone introduction, noting that the touch screen could „bring any user interface up“, I have shortcut this in a straight line to the floor of Apple Car’s inside. That was too simple in thinking, and unrealistic in any possible hardware execution.
Later, I boiled interior use cases down to three. Coming from the logical take-me-from-A-to-B raison d’être for the car, I’d say it would primarily be used on the go to work, work out, and hang out. This was what I considered Apple-marketing language, applying the rule of three, easy to understand.
But I was wrong.
»I won’t upset the apple cart. I only want what I can get.« – George Harrison in the Beatles song ‘Not Guilty’
A Circular Couch
And one night it struck me. Consequential thinking on the design really comes down to this: if we have a car without any of the necessities of current cars, if we go any direction and can turn during the ride, then the interior must be as simple as possible – that is, a full circle.
I imagine Apple car to have nothing in its interior but a circular sofa. This is the ultimate simplification of the interior design, the seating layout of any car, and the whole driving experience.
What a sofa that wraps around the whole interior of the car does for you, is quite astonishing:
- You can sit down in any direction you want.
- It knows where you sit.
- It rotates you gently, for turning corners creating less G-force, for saving you from an impact in case of a light accident, for showing you content on the opposite AR window.
And that is just the start:
- For taller people, it pops up a head rest.
- It has cushions for storage.
- It hides all the tech.
Now imagine this: Some people don’t like sitting against the direction of travel. Can this now be a setting? No-puke setting.
And of course, for driving at night, you can lay down on the sofa in a nice position.
How can I get in and out of the car when there is a full circle sofa in it, you might ask. Well, on one side, the sofa opens up for the door, and closes again to a full circle.
Who can build this?
Remember MacMan? Now there’s a new guy on Apple’s car project, Steve MacManus.
Steve MacManus - Senior Director - Apple | LinkedIn
View Steve MacManus' profile on LinkedIn, the world's largest professional community. Steve has 6 jobs listed on their…
Before becoming VP Engineering at Tesla, he worked a decade at British premium manufacturers Aston Martin and Bentley (the car Jony Ive loves), heading Interior and Exterior Trim and Hardware, and Seating and Restraints, respectively.
You know I quoted Neil Cybart a lot in this blog. One of the theories that he had a couple of years ago, was that one of the main distinctions in the market, that Apple could make, is the seating in the car.
He made the case that the seating is so essential to your driving experience, especially if the car drives it self, that you don’t want to compromise in this area – but rather innovate. We talked a lot about the fact that the exterior design of today’s cars all blends into the same stereotype of what a modern car should look like (an SUV, that is). But the same lack of uniqueness happens in the interior, in the seats, in the doors – basically anywhere.
With the talent currently assembled at Apple, we can expect some major rethinking of the interior. Combined with the simplistic design philosophy of the company, the result may very well be a circular couch.
Where’s the rest of the car?
Let me explain this with a few photos that I took in my thought process, when trying to get a feel for the dimensions of such a layout.
The seating arrangement that you can see above fits into the 2.5 x 2.5 m that I expect the square boxy shape of Apple car to be. It creates a cosy atmosphere which at the same time is not making you claustrophobic. Actually, you have a 140 cm diameter.
See me sitting in the circle:
A circle in the middle of a square obviously leaves room for other stuff in the corners. 70 cm to be exact. This is, where, in all four corners of Apple car, the wheels and suspension will be located.
As you know, I expect those wheels to be separate units, each able to spin 360 degrees, independently from each other.
I’m going to explain this with the example of REE.
The main feature of REE’s platform is the principle of “corners”: An integrated component attached to the wheel that includes all the key elements: propulsion, steering, braking, etc.
This illustrates how the complex technologies involved in such a car would be able to fit into a highly simplistic overall design. The resulting shape, in birds’ view, is the exact same that you have in your iOS icons.
I said, the size of the car would be a 2.5 meter box with the same length on each side. This accommodates the horizontal interior, but also vertical space to stand up. A feature, I think that will highlight how different this car is to any other car – where you can not stand.
And even the most forward thinking and boundary pushing startups don’t go as far. As Frederic ably describes, about the car designed by LA-based Canoo:
[It has the] Same size as a Tesla Model 3, [but] twice the passenger volume.
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If it’s twice the volume: What would happen if we only took the back half of it – the one with the cushioned couch? Make it a full circle, and there you go.