How to design an autonomous car part 1: Introduction

01. Designing an autonomous car: Introduction
02. Brainstorming use cases for our autonomous car
03. Designing the autonomous car: preliminary sketches
04. Building a 3d model of our autonomous car
05. Final renderings

Three weeks ago I was sitting in my office working on a project it wasn’t really all that interesting, and I remember very clearly holding my head up with my hand so as not to fall asleep from complete boredom. It was one of those kinds of projects that seem to go on forever with no end in sight, and it was really starting to bring me down. Anyone who is in a dry corporate job knows exactly what I’m talking about – there’s no escape from these kinds of things and you just have to roll with it if you want that pay check to keep rolling in. I was stuck.

But then something interesting happened. My manager walked in my office and said:

Scott, I have an interesting project for you

My initial reaction was to wince and clench my butt cheeks like I normally do every time the sort of thing happens, but as soon as she said “we need to design a car” I immediately perked up. A car. Really? Keep in mind that I work in a tech company not even remotely known for anything automotive. We make microchips, and most of the time those chips don’t end up anywhere near an automobile.

But like most companies tend to do to in order to stay relevant, we were branching into new territory. Somehow our CEO got the idea that the automotive space was a huge untapped market and that we needed to be a part of it. That sounds good to me. I’m a car guy through and through, so having the opportunity to work on something automotive-related was just the thing I needed to make me enjoy coming to work again.

How does a tech company with no experience in automotive design create a car that will grab the attention of the entire automotive industry? Good question. The only reason why I was nominated to take the lead of this project was because of my degree in industrial design, and somewhat limited experience in the automotive industry. And I do mean limitedthis blog and my YouTube channel pretty much encompasses my entire automotive experience in life so far. Being a car guy with a degree in industrial design automatically nominated me to take this on, and I was ok with that.

Realizing how interesting and challenging this product is going to be, I thought it would be fun to document the entire process here on driveandreview.com. This is going to be a multipart series covering the entire process of designing a car from beginning to end. We’re going to start with brainstorming sessions, have a few meetings, do some sketching, and then build our proposed design in 3-D. Oh yeah – there’s going to have to be a lot of research done the beginning as well, because we sure as hell do not know anything about autonomous cars.

I should note that the entire goal of this project is to showcase our technology. We are not car designers, and we are not trying to create a real-life car that will compete with the likes of Tesla GM Ford etc. This car will live as a digital 3-D model only, to be used in presentations and videos that we can use to spam the world with our “hey look what we can do” message. Sounds like fun right?

So here we go. It’s time for me to step back in time a little bit, roll up my sleeves, and put on my industrial design hat for the first time in nearly 15 years. I’ve got my markers and paper ready, meetings scheduled, and a team of product managers eager to see what I can do.

The goal, as I said, is to document the entire process of designing an autonomous car from beginning to end. The next post will be all about the research we did to help us identify our goals for the design of the car and the way it should look. There was a lot we all learned about autonomous technology in this process, and was actually probably the most important step of this entire project. After all, how can you design something if you don’t know anything about it?

Let’s do this.