Lockable, remote-controlled storage bins will allow autonomous vehicle fleets to generate revenue by renting space to users or selling food, drinks, and products inside vehicles.

For more than a century, most mass-market passenger cars, trucks, SUVs, and crossovers have been built around the driver. So, the advent of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is changing everything society knows about driving a car. Drivers and passengers will have to adjust to a new reality, ceding control while gaining the ability to engage in other activities while travelling.

As new attitudes about AVs develop, new thinking and technology will change how vehicle interiors are designed, engineered, and operated – mirroring people’s interactions with and perceptions of these vehicles.

Lightweight latches will become more important in autonomous vehicles to control vehicle mass and secure larger numbers of screens, bins, and panels.

Passenger confidence

As automakers improve performance and usability of AVs, automotive interior designers must consider how interiors will evolve. What new functionalities will be introduced? How can interior design features and technologies enhance comfort and confidence in AVs?

Confidence, acceptance, and trust are key aspects of consumer psychology. While the technology necessary to deploy AVs is coming to fruition, consumer psychology and passenger trust continue to be roadblocks for widespread AV adoption.

As drivers transition to hybrid driver-passenger roles, designers must create a functional interior that provides comfort and builds trust.

A 2018 Deloitte survey revealed that 47% of respondents would not trust an AV to transport them, a response in part to the surrender of decision-making from the driver to the AV. Passengers often become anxious when they are unable to anticipate the vehicle’s next move.

Technology can help alleviate this anxiety. Transparent heads-up displays (HUDs) can present information within the passenger’s line of sight. By communicating upcoming speed adjustments and lane changes to the passenger, vehicle information systems could dispel passenger fears.

To accommodate differences in passenger height, modular vehicle configurations, and changes in brightness based on weather and time, HUD display mounts need to easily adjust with mounting hardware rugged enough to handle various forces and vibrations when driving at high speeds and on changing terrains.

Position-control products, such as hinges with integrated constant torque, can provide a safer and more reliable experience when interacting with HUDs. Hinges and display mounts designed with constant torque technology provide a full range of motion, improving passenger ergonomics and usability.

New user interfaces

According to some estimates, AV drivers will have up to 50 minutes to ride in the vehicle as a passenger. This means vehicle interior designers can significantly re-think the form and function of this space. The steering wheel can be tucked away, large displays and screens can take up surface areas, and reconfigurable and removable seating options can be offered.

The user’s ability to interact with these devices is crucial. Materials used, ease of operation, and appearance will ultimately shape customers’ perception of quality toward the automotive manufacturer.

Comfort and flexibility

Stowable tray tables, infotainment systems, easier access to USB interfaces, and HUDs on windshields for live video and Internet feeds may satisfy a wider range of tasks, once the driver is freed from controlling the vehicle.

Consider the center console. Its most basic functionality is as an armrest and storage unit. As automotive interior designers consider how to support non-driving tasks, it could become a multifunctional device that doubles as a tray table or laptop support.

Intuitive mechanisms with one-touch release, one-handed operation, and quick stowaway, for instance, offer effortless operation. These mechanisms extend beyond the AV driver’s cockpit – the front passenger could also use center console features, as well as enhance glove box functionality.

Tray table mounting hardware

Ridesharing storage

Ridesharing either augments or completely replaces auto ownership for many people. Ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft have a vested interest in making AVs an integral part of their operations, as they provide opportunities for additional revenue streams – for example, storage units for personal belongings or securing items for sale.

Ride sharing fleets may want to add small beverage coolers with electronic locks that open when the passenger makes a purchase via their app. Incorporating electronic access devices – particularly devices that include cloud-based control, verification, and usage tracking – into storage units inside these AVs will involve additional cost and engineering time.


As the density of application zones multiplies, an additional challenge arises – vehicle weight. Multiplying the number of fixtures could add unwanted weight, impacting fuel efficiency (for gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles) or distance between recharges (for EVs).

Engineers will have to use lightweight materials and device designs. However, there’s a risk in selecting lower-cost, lightweight hinges and latches with a low-cost touch point experience. In addition, lower-cost mechanical hardware risks breaking or jamming after a few years’ use.

Positioning and latching products with a high-quality touch point experience and long-term usability can mitigate risk. These solutions can help AV designers increase interior feature density while helping keep vehicle weight within target.

Streamlining development

With the automotive industry projecting that AVs will be ready for the road by the early 2020s, vehicle interior designers feel the pressure to hit key deadlines. How can AV design teams engineer, specify, and test all the components for these new devices?

Working with suppliers that have technology already supporting the user experience required by the next generation of AVs can streamline the design process.

Collaboration allows AV design teams to leverage suppliers’ experiences in automotive interiors to find solutions for new fixtures for AV interiors. Experienced suppliers also have extensive in-house engineering teams skilled at quickly adapting existing mechanisms to new requirements.

Enhancing acceptance

The notion that the driver is in control of an automobile is hardwired into collective experience. As AVs move closer to deployment, AV interiors can be equipped with systems that inform passengers of the vehicle’s upcoming moves, helping overcome concerns or anxieties about using AVs. The appeal and usefulness of these systems can be enhanced with positioning technology and latching solutions that provide a high-quality touch point experience whenever these devices need to be adjusted to serve evolving passenger needs.


About the author: William Sokurenko is the automotive director for Southco’s Transportation Strategic Business unit. He has worked at Southco for more than 20 years in various levels of the engineering process, from product design to production. He can be reached at 610.459.4000 or info@southco.com.