Navigation in an Age of Autonomous Vehicles

There’s no question that technology and the culture surrounding it advances at a staggering pace. Fifteen years ago, no one would have imagined that we’d be jumping into strangers’ cars for transportation, but with the advent of Uber, people around the world do not hesitate use it in place of their own cars, taxis and public transportation. Before we know it, driverless cars – or autonomous cars – will be mainstream, turning transportation infrastructure and industry on its head.


Autonomous Vehicles Feature Image

But beyond the obvious changes in how we get around, autonomous cars will disrupt the many industries rooted in automotive and transportation. As wayfinders, we also anticipate new needs, expectations and opportunities from the adoption of autonomous cars – from the on-brand experiences wayfinding creates to the clients who support them.

Some Things Never Change

No matter how advanced autonomous cars become, communities and destinations will still need branding and placemaking. In a sense, it doesn’t matter how you get to a place as long as there is an engaging experience awaiting the visitor. At Guide Studio, we always say that it’s not about taking people on the fastest route – it’s giving them the route that provides the best experience.

The autonomous car doesn’t play a role in whether or not a visitor’s experience is memorable. Destinations need to craft an on-brand journey that creates a memorable experience because the power of a place isn’t unlocked by how conveniently you get there, it’s revealed in stages as you explore the place itself.

While, autonomous cars could very well impact vehicular wayfinding and street signage, passengers still need to be shown how the brand is weaved into the experience of a place. Placemaking is so important that is will still play an essential role when we’ve reached Star Trek levels of technology and visitors are teleporting to their destinations. “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Pedestrians Are King

Automation is efficient, but it can make an experience less engaging. By this logic, autonomous cars may disengage drivers and passengers, but the experience created by wayfinding at the pedestrian level may become more important.

Once a destination is reached, there is opportunity to actively engage visitors with an invitation to explore and find their own way. Once on foot, a visitor is able to fully embrace the destination and experience the nuisances the brand has to offer.

The visitor experience can be thought of as a blank canvas on which destinations can create their masterpiece with branding, wayfinding and placemaking. Adding autonomous cars to the mix makes the canvas small because, the automation may eliminate some or all of the need for wayfinding that guides you to the destination. This leaves pedestrian wayfinding as a primary opportunity to guide the visitor experience and establish the destination’s brand.

Tech Attack

In the age of autonomous cars, it’s pretty safe to assume that technology will play a bigger role in signage and wayfinding. How exactly it will be incorporated and when is still unknown.

While the promise of dramatic change and many unknowns of autonomous car technology can be daunting, there will, no doubt, be new opportunities for communities and destinations to embrace and enhance their place. Think digital signage with event or brand-driven content to compliment pedestrian signage, or autonomous car pick-up/drop-off locations as an opportunity to further enhance visitor experience. The changes won’t occur over night, which leaves us time to slowly adopt and explore the opportunities that autonomous cars will offer destinations.

We live in an exciting time and, as wayfinding consultants, we look forward to seeing how these new technologies reshape our industry. But one thing is certain: no matter how central autonomous cars become in our day-to-day lives, people will still identify with and appreciate an on-brand journey.


Need some advice? Reach out to Guide Studio’s wayfinding experts to discuss your objectives and explore your options.

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