This thesis project aims to target the increasing number of people who live, work and transit through the densely populated metropolises that, fused together, create megaregions.
These individuals, an already big and ever increasing number of people, are the so-called super-commuters, members of the workforce whose commutes surpass the figures of 90 minutes or, alternatively, 145 km in a single-way.
As it happens with others who live in the same geographical region, they experience the need or wish of working in the dense urban centres that offer plenty of job opportunities, but little housing opportunities.
This lack of housing paired with its very high and ever increasing prices forces these people to disperse and to search for living places farther away from their workplaces, thus trading convenience and free time for long commutes. Super-commuting is indeed showing a growing trend, not only in the number of super-commuters themselves but also in the duration of commutes.
Commutes are getting lengthier for a number of reasons, such as increasingly comfortable vehicles, technological advancements that help render commuting time either productive or entertaining.
However, in a post-pandemic society, many companies are also offering their employees the chance to adopt hybrid work modes with more days spent working from home - which makes workers consider living farther away from their workplaces as they need to commute less (number of times).It is an undeniable fact that the longer the commute, the less free time one worker has, either for resting or doing something productive. It is also true that in an increasingly fast-paced technological world, people have also increasing difficulties in separating their professional and personal lives.
Therefore, the approach of this thesis project goes through offering people the chance to make the most out of their commutes, so as to free more of their time when not commuting or working - time to spend with their loved ones or to be used to do whatever they would like.
To achieve that, this project contemplates the use of autonomous technologies expected to become more widespread within the automotive industry; as by rendering vehicles autonomous would free people from driving and let them allocate their time to other tasks.
This thesis project offers a holistic proposal of a premium commuting service targeted to super-commuters living and working within the Northern California megaregion. This service would connect peripheral communities directly to the Bay Area, where most companies are located, through a door-to-hub service.
It focuses on how users of this service might experience their commutes by presenting case studies of three different types of professionals with diverse needs, and exploring how they would use it as a means of making their commutes as convenient and efficient as possible.
The process herein exposed goes through the various stages of design development, from research to ideation and leading to a final proposal, consisting of a service, mobile booking app and exterior and interior design of a vehicle.
The interior is inspired by the motto “good design is as little design as possible” (Dieter Rams) that inspired some of the most iconic brands of this era (Braun, Apple, Muji).
This choice is based upon the fact that technological products and services tend to opt for timeless shapes, interfaces and concepts (if the design looked dated after a while, users would also perceive the product/service itself as outdated).
Signal, being a technological brand, would also benefit from this approach to design - and the target, Californians, would easily click with it, due to familiarity.
The result is an autonomous vehicle capable of switching between three distinct modes; Work Mode, Rest Mode and Social Mode.
Work Mode will allow passengers to work confidentiality. A table will be deployed for working devices and the seat will adopt an upright position.
A VPN connection will be provided, plus complementary coffee for morning commutes and water for afternoon rides.
Passengers can rest and sleep in Rest Mode. All lights will be dimmed and the seat will adopt a relaxing position. A blanket will be provided in this mode, arranged by the service crew.
The private glass between compartments will drop when both occupants select Social Mode. This is the only nonprivate mode where passengers can interact with each other and make their commutes more interactive.
After their commuting, passengers can keep in touch trough Signal's messaging app, if both wish so.
The vehicle is able to connect/touch up with other vehicles of the same type on highways/faster roads, making a train formation which provides a higher level of efficiency at high speeds.
Rear and front wings are deployed to form a curtain between both vehicles streaming the air over the roof and avoiding undesirable turbulence.
A combination of minimal surfaces and smooth transitions from the front and rear endings towards the body side allows a substantial aerodynamic performance.
The exterior can be defined by simple and beveled shapes with minimal surfaces in order to achieve a high aerodynamic performance.
To simplify production, both front and rear body panels, lamps, windshields and spoilers are symmetric pieces while the glass roof and doors are two identical pieces with the same design on both sides. Since the vehicle only has a steering axel, it can only drive in one way, with lamps being the only component signaling direction.
The interior of the vehicle follows the same minimalistic principles as the exterior. Both left and right compartments have the same design, facing each other in an offset position. This approach simplifies the production reducing the number of molds and tools required.
The theme can be characterized as a 180° rotational symmetry that results in a wiggling shape around the occupants flowing from side
to side of the interior. It enhances the cocoon feeling when in private modes and it is revealed as a whole once the private glass drops down for social mode.
Additionaly, hi-tech and product design aesthetics were pursued as in the interior.