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RCA Researchers and Designers Imagine Utopian and Dystopian Driverless Futures

From 3 March to 23 April, an exhibition at London Transport Museum, Driverless Futures: Utopia or Dystopia, will consider the impacts of new developments in driverless vehicles on our everyday lives, and will highlight real-life hopes and fears as well as ideas from researchers and vehicle designers at the Royal College of Art.

With the first driverless vehicles are expected to be publicly available from 2020, the dawn of autonomous vehicles presents the most significant change in transport since the transition from horse-drawn carriages to motorised vehicles. As driverless technology develops, it is estimated that these vehicles will proliferate in our cities from 2050

Driverless Futures will look at peoples' aspirations about driverless vehicles, as well as their concerns, by using the narrative of four fictional characters and scenarios based on real journeys. The display will encourage visitors to think beyond traditional car-like vehicles to include systems, services and even architectural spaces. These future lifestyles might include an orderable bus service that takes commuters door-to-door and allows them to take a yoga class while travelling, or hireable drones that carry shopping bags home.

The aim of Driverless Futures is to engage with the public in a creative and open debate, to encourage visitors to comment on the ideas presented and to develop further opportunities and challenges that can then be taken to a higher level. The display draws on new research that the RCA has developed through public workshops with over 100 participants, incorporating thousands of resultant hopes and fears for future cities.

Visitors to the display will be encouraged to put forward their own ideas for the future and thereby inform future investigations. As part of Driverless Futures, designers and researchers from the RCA will be in the Designology Studio meeting visitors and showcasing their ideas in a series of day long public workshops.

The RCA’s Intelligent Mobility Design Centre and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (HHCD) will present an interactive design display as part of London Transport Museum’s Designology exhibition, which will explore the world of driverless vehicles as part of the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project.

Director of The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design Rama Gheerawo explained: ‘Rather than using the exhibition to sell the benefits of this technology, we decided to use the space as an environment in which visitors can explore the potential impact of these vehicles on their lives. We used peoples' hopes to imagine a positive future – safer, cleaner and more inclusive – and their fears to describe a dystopian one – isolated, mechanistic, driven by profit and exclusivity.’

The workshops will cover a variety of topics, taking a holistic approach to the future of driverless technologies, from ‘Entertaining Interiors’ on 9 March, exploring how the inside of cars and vehicles might change in the future, to the workshop on 16 March which will ask ‘What can be made "driverless"?’ inviting visitors to imagine a future of autonomous delivery pods, waste recyclers, advertisements and even showers.

A workshop on 6 April will imagine the possibilities of ‘Cars for Kids’, considering what these driverless vehicles might look like and if parents would feel comfortable allowing their children to use them. On 13 April the RCA designers will invite the public to consider how the entire urban space will evolve and develop as a result of driverless vehicles in an ‘Autonomous Architecture’ workshop.

The event series will culminate on 20 April with a debate – Driverless Futures, Utopia or Dystopia? – which will explore the potential risks or rewards of a driverless world. A panel of experts will discuss the future of autonomous vehicles from every angle, and the public will be able to voice their opinions and see some of the results of the on-site investigations.

Driverless Futures has been developed by designers and researchers at the RCA as part of the £8m GATEway research project led by TRL and jointly funded by Innovate UK and industry, to understand and overcome the technical, legal and social challenges of implementing automated vehicles in an urban environment.

To book a place on any of the workshops or the debate on the 20 April visit www.ltmuseum.co.uk

To continue the debate online, go to driverlessfutures.commonplace.is or see comments about the GATEway project here.