Cars always seem to come with available add-on options.

It is relatively easy to make a list of the customary add-ons that you can get with your car.

For example, one popular add-on encompasses getting an extensive infotainment package that provides a full surround sound experience in your vehicle and online access to the latest in popular videos and podcasts. Another obvious example is that you can get heated bucket seats, which also as a further bonus allows for cooling so that your bucket seats can be refreshingly chilled in the summer and toasty warm in the winter.

There are also under-the-hood add-ons, ones that you don’t necessarily see with the naked eye but that is embodied into the vehicle for your use. This might include a souped-up engine proffering tremendously boosted horsepower. Most people do not look at the engine to witness the mechanics of how the bolstered speed will occur, and instead, merely experience the add-on when they jam down on the accelerator pedal and feel the exhilaration of being inside a rocket-propelled speedster.

The most expensive add-ons are much rarer, usually only available on so-called high-end or luxury cars, and not typically available on standard models of cars.

Consider the add-on of a center console housing compartment that you can gently rest a champagne bottle into, for which the unit will make sure to properly chill the (presumably) pricy champagne that you are carrying in your car (well, please, don’t drink and drive). This would of course come with specially adapted cup holders in the vehicle that can snugly accommodate champagne flutes.

Do you have that champagne galore add-on in your existing car?

Probably not, but don’t despair, one day it will probably become a standard feature.

You see, oftentimes an unusual or extraordinary add-on begins its life as seemingly outlandish or decadent, and then eventually there is a tide that turns toward everyone wanting that very same feature. The costs gradually come down, the availability goes up, and suddenly it seems that all cars have the same capability. If the feature is alluring enough, the odds are that it will ultimately be considered part-and-parcel of the mundane or required aspects of a modern vehicle.

Here’s another add-on that perhaps seems a bit indulgent.

Are you ready?

Anti-paparazzi privacy curtains for the windows of your car.

These are specialized curtains that can be open or closed, depending upon whether you want to be seen or are trying to hide from those pushy photographers that are attempting to capture your every move and mood. We are all destined for our fifteen minutes of fame, so having those privacy curtains could be a worthwhile added investment. Make sure to get the ones that allow for being automatically opened or closed via the push of a button, otherwise you’ll look quite ridiculous (and cheap) if you are trying to operate them by mere hand alone.

Shifting gears, consider that the future of cars involves the emergence of self-driving cars.

We are gradually going to witness the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars, whereby the vehicle is driven autonomously by an AI driving system and there isn’t any human at the wheel of the car. Many are hopeful that the excising of humans from the driving act will demonstrably decrease the number of car crashes. This makes sense in that the AI won’t be drinking and driving, and nor will the AI driving system be driving while distracted.

The focus today is on simply and somewhat miraculously getting a car to be driven by an AI driving system and do so with the appropriate capacity of safety during a driving journey. That’s the heads-up aspiration and one that is extraordinarily daunting.

Assuming that the overarching goal of achieving a proper self-driving car is achievable, the attention can then go toward the bonus aspects beyond the “standard package” that we’ll expect for a self-driving car.

What are the expected standard aspects?

You’d expect as a standard capability that there is a means to sit inside a self-driving car, such that suitable seats are provided. At first, the seats might be rather ordinary looking, akin to the usual seating of conventional cars, perhaps bench-style seating or maybe bucket seats.

Per various futuristic designs, many believe that the seats in a self-driving car might ultimately be swivel seats rather than the normal fixed-in-place seats. This makes sense in that there will no longer need to be a driver’s seat in the fixed position at the dashboard of the vehicle, and thus the interior space of a car can be reimagined or opened up to new possibilities. People riding in a self-driving car might want to look this way and that way, watching the road up ahead or swiveling to watch the road that has just gone past, so swivel seats make indubitable sense.

Those swivel seats will likely morph into becoming fully reclinable seats, making them into a bed-like arrangement. This makes terrific sense since you won’t need to pay attention to the driving and can get a quick nap on the way to work. Or maybe you’ll take those cross-country driving trips and do so via sleeping in your car for much of the journey, letting the AI observe the road for you.

This seating progression then consists of having ordinary or conventional seats, progressing toward swivel seats, and incrementally being advanced to become a combination of swivel and bed-like seating. Thus, the notion is that there will be some initial “standard package” elements of the first iterations of self-driving cars, during which the newer and more experimental add-on variants will start to surface, and then those variants will likely become standards for the follow-on generation of the self-driving vehicles.

During that initial era, we will begin to subtly witness the add-ons for the next generation of self-driving cars.

Keep your eyes and ears open during that time.

Those bonus add-ons will eventually (maybe) become the standard fare. Not necessarily all of the add-ons will survive since there is bound to be a kind of Darwinian winnowing of which add-ons have long legs and which ones are a flash-in-the-pan and nobody really wants them for the long haul.

Here is an intriguing question to contemplate: What kind of initial add-ons might be tried out in the first generation of AI-based true self-driving cars and then likely continue onward as expected capabilities for the standard fare of well-equipped next-gen self-driving cars?

Let’s unpack the matter and see.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered a Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Add-ons

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

For the wealthiest self-driving cars, let’s take a look at a chosen handful of add-ons that one might anticipate being made available in the initial era or epoch of self-driving cars.

These add-ons are likely to include somewhat impractical or unnecessary facets that are abstractly comparable to the champagne chiller mentioned earlier in conventional luxury cars (yes, I realize that some would argue the champagne capability is not impractical and not unnecessary, I hear you). While others of the add-ons are going to be of immense practical value and sensibly be included in all future self-driving cars.

Put on your seatbelt and get ready for those luxury add-ons of the first generation of self-driving cars.

Interior Wraparound LEDs

A conventional car allows you to see out the windows of the vehicle.

This is certainly prudent.

There is a human driver in the car and they have to see the driving scene to be able to appropriately drive the car. Some conventional cars provide a huge amount of window space, while others are a bit chintzier. In any case, the windows are mainly for the driver, one would naturally assert, and yet are handy for the passengers since they can also look at the world outside of the car too.

The AI driving system will be relying upon a suite of sensors that are mounted onto or sometimes into the body of the car, including the use of video cameras, radar, LIDAR, ultrasonic units, and the like. This means that the windows are of no consequence for the AI driving system. Any windows that exist will be purely for the benefit of the passengers and has nothing to do with the AI driving system per se.

In theory, self-driving cars can be made into bubbles that have absolutely no windows at all.

Many are doubtful that passengers will find that very alluring. People inside a self-driving car are going to want to look out the window, regardless of whether the AI needs such a facility or not. In short, windows will likely continue to exist on cars, including for self-driving cars.

That being said, there is a twist.

The glass in the windows can be potentially made of materials that will allow a transparent look or an opaque look. With a touch of a button, the windows will allow you to look out, and by touching the button again the windows will be cloudy or possibly entirely impenetrable. Even if the glass doesn’t have this capacity, there can be specialized curtains (akin to the anti-paparazzi ones of today), which can be used to close off the windows when desired.

You might want to shut the windows, as it were, due to taking a nap while inside a self-driving car.

There is another basis for doing this. The interior of the vehicle might become your own drive-in (or, driving in motion) movie theatre.

The notion is that the entire interior is lined with LED screens. You can then play your favorite cat videos and be utterly surrounded by the playful cats, visually. Imagine that you have tilted your swivel seat into a reclining posture, and you are now watching the ceiling of the interior, upon which your cat video is being displayed. It is like being at your own Imax theatre.

For those that might find this somewhat claustrophobic, especially in versions whereby the car is indeed a bubble and the LEDs replace the windows altogether, there is a lifeline for you. The AI driving system can display what it sees via the cameras onto the interior LEDs. In a manner of speaking, this allows for the self-driving car to have simulated windows. You will look at the interior side panel LED, and you’ll seemingly be looking outside “the window” (via the video images streaming from the actual camera mounted outside of the vehicle).

Trippy!

Drone Accompaniment

You get into a self-driving car and realize after the AI has driven you partway to your destination that you have left your wallet at home.

Sadness, madness, irksomeness.

Do you have the self-driving car drive you back home?

You could do so, but there’s another way to solve this pickle.

Send out the self-driving car drone.

That’s right, some self-driving cars will be outfitted with a paired drone. The drone can be launched from the self-driving car and sent on missions. In this example, you could have it fly home, have your loved one at home put your wallet into the drone, and the drone flies back to you.

Meanwhile, the self-driving car is still pushing along in traffic and aiming to reach your destination.

The drone will meet-up with wherever you and the self-driving car are. Perhaps the drone took flight when you were halfway to your destination. It was fast enough that it was able to fly to your home, get the wallet, and fly back to meet you while the self-driving car is now three-fourths of the way to your destination.

There is no need to stop the self-driving car for the launching and nor the landing of the drone.

If you don’t like the example of getting your wallet, here’s another example that is already being tried out.

The drone could deliver you some fast-food (see my coverage at this link here).

You are riding inside the self-driving car and the traffic on the freeways is slow going. You are getting hungry. If the self-driving car is told to get off at the next available exit that has a fast-food drive-thru, you’ll lose time toward reaching your destination. So, the obvious and best alternative is to send your drone.

Or, if the eatery is suitably equipped, have them send their drone to your self-driving car, packed with that delicious hamburger and fries, ready cooked and drone-delivered to your eager hands (inside the self-driving car).

Exterior Electronic Skin

Today’s conventional cars are generally bland when it comes to the exterior of the vehicle (no disrespect for the beautiful designs and shapes of today’s cars).

By bland, I mean that they are usually painted a particular color and that’s the likely look of the car for its lifetime. Sure, you might go to the trouble to take the car to a place that will paint it with a new color, but this is a sizable hassle and not many choose to do so.

Some conventional cars are outfitted with external LEDs that display messages on the rooftop or are mounted at the rear of the vehicle. This might include showcasing advertising or other kinds of signage.

Envision that a self-driving car is enshrouded in an electronic skin (for my coverage on this, see the link here).

This would allow you to display whatever you’d like on the exterior of the vehicle. Maybe today you feel like going for a drive in a pink-colored car. Voila, you just tell the AI driving system to make the electronic skin look entirely pink in color. The next day, you change the color to blue. And so on.

One reason for having electronic skin is that it will help to make a self-driving car stand out when trying to pick-up someone. If self-driving cars of the same automaker or self-driving car firm are otherwise all looking alike, it will be hard to know which self-driving car is the one that you are supposed to be used when getting a lift. Via the electronic skin, the exterior could display an image or message that would make abundantly clear that the self-driving car is there to pick you up.

A big downside of these kinds of electronic skins is that they would be a distraction to human drivers. As such, until there is a preponderance of self-driving cars on the roadways, having these kinds of displays on the exterior will be problematic. You can also anticipate that there will be a lot of societal angst over what people can or shouldn’t display on the exterior of their self-driving cars.

ODDs Selection

Level 4 self-driving cars are going to be based on Operational Design Domains (ODDs). This is industry parlance for the scope or nature of the driving environment and conditions that the AI driving system of the self-driving car can safely handle (for my detailed explanation, see the link here).

For example, some self-driving cars might only function properly in sunny weather and not be suitable for driving in heavy rain. That would be one instance of an ODD. There might be some self-driving cars that are capable of driving in the rain and sunshine but are not capable to handle nighttime driving. This would be another instance of an ODD.

Please be aware that those are simplistic examples, and the actual ODDs will be much more complex. In any case, the point being made is that depending upon which self-driving car you happen to use (of Level 4), it will have a designated ODD and thus it would be expected to only drive when those ODD conditions are met.

A type of add-on could be the variety of ODDs for your self-driving car.

In other words, the standard with the self-driving car is an ODD that allows for driving only during daylight, for example. And, for an added fee, you can get an ODD that will allow the vehicle to drive at nighttime.

I bring up this as an add-on to highlight an important point made earlier about add-ons, namely that sometimes an add-on starts as something considered extraordinary, and gradually becomes part of the standard.

You can likely expect that the ODDs will fit into that kind of progression.

Off-Roading Capability

Many people do not realize that the existing levels of self-driving cars do not encompass an off-roading capability (for my explanation, see the link here).

Off-roading is considered outside the scope of an everyday kind of self-driving car.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the automakers and self-driving tech firms will inevitably accommodate off-road driving into their AI driving systems.

Note that this is not a stated requirement to satisfactorily meet the levels of self-driving cars and would be done as a kind of add-on if you will.

Adult Provided With The Self-Driving Car

A final twist on the add-ons topic is the notion that an adult human being would come with the self-driving car.

That’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of depicting this aspect.

In short, I’ve predicted that there will be a type of nanny or butler (a new title will likely emerge), involving having a person that can be made available for a driving journey inside a self-driving car.

Why so?

Suppose you wanted to have a self-driving car pick-up your elderly grandmother and bring her to your house. You don’t want her traveling alone in the self-driving car as she sometimes needs added attention. When scheduling the self-driving car, you also request that an adult be present that can aid your grandmother during the driving journey.

There will be a new niche of people that are hired to ride in self-driving cars and provide some assistance accordingly. It could simply be adult supervision, such as when you are having a bunch of kids traveling in a self-driving car to a campground, wherein once they get to the campsite there is someone else there to receive them. During the car ride, you want to make sure an adult is inside the car and making sure the kids don’t misbehave.

I realize that a human being is not an add-on per se.

No worries, since eventually those humans might get replaced by a walking-talking robot, in which case, you could then construe that the passenger robot is indeed an add-on (similar to the exemplar of a drone).

Conclusion

There you have it, a handful of potential add-ons that will appear in the first era of self-driving cars and then might become “standard fare” on future generations of self-driving cars.

In recap, here they are:

·        Interior wraparound LEDs

·        Drone accompaniment

·        External electronic skins

·        ODDs selection

·        Off-roading capability

·        Adult provided with the self-driving car

The good news is that all of those are relatively feasible and generally well within the realm of being made available. In essence, there is nothing about them that would seemingly preclude or make unlikely the technological chances of them becoming features for self-driving cars.

Now that you’ve had a chance to see the list of “reasonable” add-ons, get yourself ready for my next list.

The next set of potential add-ons are pretty outlandish and stretch the possibilities of what can be done, but one supposes that is what makes add-ons so delectable and desirable.

That list will be considered the uberwealthy or supremely indulgent self-driving car add-ons. Better get the champagne ready.

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