Car brands like Toyota are innovating the way interiors relate to their audience in more intimate and emotive ways.

Earlier in the year, we wrote on why the car may soon become a key consumer channel in the era of COVID-19. Previously, in our Frame 132 issue, we had discussed a different, yet inherently related phenomenon: automakers working to create car interiors that serve to create a smart, empathetic bond between user and machine. Read the full piece below.

Automakers have long understood the need to create an emotional connection between their products and their customers. Traditionally, this would be done through exterior styling – anthropomorphism in modern car design is no accident – the viscerality of an engine note or the responsiveness of that all-important ‘driving experience’.

But these factors will dramatically decrease in importance as the auto industry moves towards a future dominated by electric propulsion and automated driving. As riders and renters usurp drivers and owners as the target audience, car brands are instead innovating the way interiors relate to their audience in more intimate and emotive ways.

The latest point on this trajectory comes in the form of Toyota’s LQ concept car, which was revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show. ‘In the past, our love for cars was built on their ability to enable our adventures,’ explains LQ development leader Daisuke Ido. ‘With the LQ, we can deliver a personalized experience, meet each driver's unique mobility needs, and build an even stronger bond between car and driver.’

Toyota’s LQ concept car relies on an inbuilt personal assistant to adjust in-vehicle illumination, air conditioning, seat lumbar support and even scent and music selection.

This attempt to create a product in which users will be ‘moved and engaged emotionally’ centres on the inbuilt personal assistant Yui. This artificially intelligent system will read occupants’ facial expressions and talk to them in order to understand their needs before taking steps to reduce stress and increase alertness. It does this through a variety of human-machine interfaces built into the interior, including adjusting in-vehicle illumination, air conditioning, seat lumbar support and even scent and music selection.

Toyota’s design builds on precedents such as Honda’s 2017 NeuV concept, which featured an AI ‘emotion engine’ that used some of the same sensorial cues to improve driver wellness. In fact, some manufacturers are already implementing limited versions of these technologies in existing products. Last year Mercedes partnered with wearables brand Garmin to help calm users by measuring drivers’ bio-signals and adjusting aspects of the car interior accordingly.

These projects have consequences for the wider spatial-design industry. Soon consumers will be spending an increasing amount of time in environments that feel like they truly care for their needs through touch, sound, smell, light and form, and do so in an integrated, coordinated and effortless manner. Such experiences will set expectations that other space providers will have to try and meet.

But can they? Car brands can achieve such responsiveness because they provide a ‘total’ environment with limited intervention from third parties. In comparison, the construction of home or office spaces is a messy amalgam of competing creative intentions and codes. As technology defines how we relate to space in more complex and compelling ways, tomorrow’s developers will need to figure out how to offer such full stack solutions if they’re to prosper.

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