When AI is doing the driving, what we call a "car" may look and act like something else entirely.

Enlarge / When AI is doing the driving, what we call a “car” may look and act like something else entirely. (credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Welcome to Ars UNITE, our week-long virtual conference on the ways that innovation brings unusual pairings together. Each day this week from Wednesday through Friday, we’re bringing you a pair of stories about facing the future. Today’s focus is on AI in transportation—buckle up!

As artificial intelligence technology becomes more integrated into our daily lives, it may have a profound effect on how everyday objects look and behave. That’s especially true of autonomous vehicles. While the first self-driving cars in development have built upon human-controlled designs, AI will steer vehicle design past traditional shapes and features. With fewer human factors to worry about, the shape and behavior of vehicles could change radically. And it could all start with something as simple as headlights.

“As vehicles shift from drivers to autonomy, the importance of lights will diminish while the importance of sensors will increase,” explained Adam Rodnitzky, the vice president of marketing at Occipital, a spatial computing company. “Therefore, we’ll start to see common design features like headlights, tail lights and turn signals go from prominent styling features to vestigial and diminished design elements.”

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