Winners’ Interview with YooJung Ahn

Google Self-Driving Car

The Google team has recently been awarded the Red Dot: Luminary at the awarding ceremony in Singapore for their design concept Google Self Driving Car, a vehicle that drives autonomously without human input. The Red Dot: Luminary is the highest achievement at the Red Dot Award: Design Concept. A leading light to follow, this concept is selected among the 42 Red Dot: Best of the Best winners which are reserved for the best works in a category. The Red Dot: Luminary 2016 serves as an inspiration to aspire towards. Other nominees for the Red Dot: Luminary include a smart armchair by Aisin Seiki; an electronic paper toy by ENSCI – Les Ateliers; and an autonomous car by Daimler AG.

YooJung Ahn shares with us more about her journey, and the recent developments.

What affected the decisions to submit the Google Self-Driving Car to the Red Dot Award: Design Concept?

When we designed our prototype vehicle, we thought hard about what it would mean to build a self-driving car from the ground up. We had to rethink basic vehicle design, including everything from the features to the shape of the vehicle. Red Dot is a place where new design concepts are celebrated, and we think our project embodies a lot of the principles Red Dot is based upon. As this technology is introduced into the world for the first time, the design of self-driving vehicles will be front and center for millions of people.

Share with us your experience how has the Google Self-Driving Car developed.

It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, “What should be different about this kind of vehicle?” We started with the most important thing: safety. Our vehicles have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects up to two football fields in distance in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections.

We’ve completely re-examined the interior experience. The design was optimised for passengers and pedestrians, instead of being optimized for the driver. When no one is driving, there is no need for a steering wheel or pedals. The cabin is entirely symmetrical, spacious, and illuminated by panoramic windows that draw passengers’ attention to the outside world. Two seats (with seat belts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route—and that’s about it.

Any design approaches used when crafting user experience?

During a typical car development process, most designers define their target audience, research use cases, and then benchmark their car against vehicles from different brands. However, we were designing the first ever fully self-driving car and there was no prior history to lean on. We ran brainstorms and research to come up with potential use cases and user experiences, then we built early prototypes to test our ideas. We designed the current prototype after completing an in-depth design study.

Can you describe the design process at Google?

We believe that if we focus on the user, all else will follow. We embrace that principle in our design by building experiences that surprise and enlighten our users in equal measure.

What do you think is the biggest strength that Self-Driving Car has over cars driven by human?

Fully self-driving cars can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button without any human intervention. They could transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing 1.3 million fatalities that occur each year on roadways (94% of crashes in the U.S. involve human error), reclaiming the billions of hours wasted in traffic, or bringing everyday destinations and new opportunities within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car.

Would this product design be able to address challenges like moral dilemma or the legal environment?

Safety is our number one priority, so we’ve built in layers of safety into our vehicle.

Self-driving cars never get sleepy or distracted like humans, and their ability to see 360 degrees and simultaneously track hundreds of objects around them means they can potentially respond more quickly than humans in many scenarios—which helps them avoid accidents.

  • Awareness of environment: The prototypes have sensors that eliminate blind spots and can see up to two football fields in all directions (which helps protect from the most dangerous types of crashes, like red-light runners).
  • Redundant systems: We have backups for major systems, like steering and braking.
  • Passenger and pedestrian protection: We’re testing new technology to help keep people safe, inside and outside the vehicle, including a foam front-end and a flexible windscreen. The 25 mph maximum speed of the vehicle also decreases the likelihood of severe injury.

What was your inspiration for Google Self-Driving Car (in terms of motivation/form/material etc.)?

I wanted to think beyond traditional vehicles and focus on designing a simple, honest, approachable and delightful experience for everyday life. To me, design is about more than just styling. Every part of our vehicle should have its purpose.

What does being a Red Dot: Luminary winner mean to you?

It’s encouraging to see Red Dot recognise a brand new technology and design concept. Good design is a crucial part of integrating self-driving vehicles into the world. Our top priority is to make sure people feel comfortable and safe in our vehicle, and it’s exciting to see Red Dot recognize and celebrate these design principles.

Would you like to share more about other developments you have in the pipeline?

Since the launch of our first prototype vehicles, we’ve expanded our testing program to a total of four U.S. cities, and we’re ready to add more vehicles to our fleet. We’re currently outfitting a hundred new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans with our self-driving sensors and software.