For the last 80-some years, the model car has been pretty standard. The tail fins and bucket seats came and went, but there were almost always four wheels, two headlights, and windows, plenty of big, clear windows ringing the car. All of that will change soon because the robot cars upend so many parts of the game that the designers can begin again with a clean file in their design software.
Reconsidering the role of car windows may be the most obvious.
Windows won't be necessary when there's no human inside who needs to see to pick a path. The autonomous cars will use five, 10, or even more cameras looking at every angle and these cameras don't need to be much bigger than the dots on the back of a phone. Some may use elaborate laser range finders that currently live perched on the roof of some of the prototypes but these whirling gadgets don't need windows either.
When riders start having a choice, will they pick and choose autonomous cars with glass portals to the world? The first robot cars will almost certainly have them because it's never good to ask people to endure too many radical changes. In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe described how the early Mercury astronauts insisted that NASA add a window to the capsule:
And why? Because pilots had windows in their cockpits and hatches they could open on their own. That was what it was all about: being a pilot as opposed to a guinea pig. The men hadn't stopped with the window and the hatch, either. Not for a moment. Now they wanted ... manual control of the rocket. They weren't kidding! This was to take the form of an override system: If the astronaut believed, in his judgment, as captain of the ship (not capsule), that the boost rocket engine was malfunctioning, he could take over and guide it himself—like any proper pilot.
The emphasis is Wolfe's but the same holds for the autonomous cars. Early riders aren't going to want to be ‘spam in a can,’ the astronaut's term; they'll want some control over this robot driver and windows are a big part of having a seat at the committee table.