Car News: Can a Car be Your Third Place?

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When you no longer need to drive your car, what exactly will you do in there? Recent car news shows that designers are beginning to contemplate what activities might be central to passengers when everyone is a passenger in an autonomous car.

One popular way of thinking about autonomous cars involves the concept of a “third place.” While the idea of a third place has been in the sociological conversation for decades, it typically involved something not much like a car at all. It was a third type of place besides work and home, where people could spend a significant amount of time relaxing, connecting with others or investing time in hobbies.

Embracing this idea of a third place, Swiss automaker Rinspeed debuted a concept car called the Oasis, where a miniature succulent garden greets passengers and provides some elements of that bridge between home and work. While the Oasis will likely never be on the road as an autonomous car, it does provide a way for designers to think about what kinds of environments an autonomous car could offer.

These concepts aren’t entirely new, though. A print from the 1950s shows a family speeding safely along the highway while all four passengers face one another, playing dominoes. The idea of carefree travel in an autonomous car is a bit of a fantasy.

Uber’s vice president of engineering and head of self-driving Anthony Levandowski says that there won’t be any domino-playing going on, at least anytime soon. It’s hard not to wonder, though, what car drivers will do when there’s no more driving, particularly as even Uber has plans to launch a driverless fleet.

One thought emerging in car news related to autonomous driving is the idea that the line may blur between car and home. A car may dock in a sort of attached pod in your house and share Internet profiles, charging docks and interact in many ways with the technology in your house.

Car news is full of descriptions of what life will be like once we’re not required to drive anymore. While safety is the first consideration, designers are also spending a lot of time thinking about what people will do once they aren’t focused on the road. While a driverless car might be missing some of the elements of a true third place, it does seem that some elements of work and home might creep into the drive and make your car more of a bridge between your home and work.

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