If you think you’re frustrated with BMW’s current design direction, just wait until cars get even more autonomous. At the moment, the most advanced autonomous driving systems are Level 3 at best and that requires a lot of external hardware. However, the hardware for Level 3 can easily be hidden in grilles and whatnot. Move up to Level 4 and that’s not so easy anymore. Move further up to Level 5 and it may not even be possible.

This makes autonomous, self-driving cars far more difficult to design than plain old electric cars. EVs are actually easier to design, as they have fewer design constraints, thanks to their lack of engines, transmissions and a gas tank. However, adding self-driving tech makes life far more difficult for designers..

According to BMW, this poses questions that still haven’t been answered. “Electrification doesn’t have a very big impact on how you design a car. The sensors needed for autonomous driving have a bigger influence [on design],” Domagoj Dukec recently told Digital Trends.

All of that hardware will make self-driving cars easily spotted on the road, thanks to their growing array of sensors and autonomous gubbins. Will customers be okay with that?

“How many people will go for it? And, will they be willing to make a compromise on design? For 100,000 euros, do you buy a car for its design, or because you can drive fully autonomously in certain circumstances? This is still something we don’t know,” said Dukec.

So will customers be willing to pay for a fancy luxury car that looks weird because it has impressive autonomous tech or will they avoid it because of its oddball styling? Maybe customers at lower price points might be willing to compromise on styling for better tech but high-end luxury customers won’t be? After all, luxury purchases are emotional ones, in which style and subjective desirability are often more important than tech or capability. Which means you can slap bulky Lidar tech on top of a 7 Series or S-Class because luxury customers won’t have it.

That’s still quite tricky, though. At the top end of the luxury market, customers also want the latest and greatest technology available. How much of a technology compromise can you make in the name of style and luxury? So while you can’t slap Lidar to the roof, customers are still going to want autonomous technology. Where do you put it all?

Obviously, advances in technology will make autonomous hardware more space-efficient. But how long after Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy exist will that happen? Admittedly, that’s a long ways away but cars are also planned and designed several years in advance, so it’s not as if designers can punt the ball for too much longer.

There aren’t really many answers to these questions, which makes the lives of designers a bit more difficult. So maybe cut them some slack when the come out with more controversial future designs, such as the BMW iNEXT.

[Source: Digital Trends]