If you think the interiors of tomorrow’s family cars will be boring, think again.

Future car and truck interiors will look and be used much differently than they are now if today’s young designers have their way.

Family-friendly vehicles won’t just have entertainment centers, they will become entertainment centers. Standard seats will morph into mini-playgrounds for young children, or turn into swings or hammocks for travel-weary parents.

One designer even envisions seats of detachable lightweight fabric that can be transformed into kites. Kite flying is a popular family activity in much of Asia.

To get this fascinating glimpse of the future, Ward’s AutoWorld magazine partnered with International Automotive Components Group (IAC) and Lear Corp. to sponsor a design competition at the Transportation Design Dept. of the prestigious College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

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A class of 15 automotive design students was challenged to create an interior for a young, active family that enjoy the outdoors and is environmentally conscious.

The young designers were encouraged to use bold colors and maximize the use of lightweight and green materials. But unlike the real world, we did not require them to meet tough cost restrictions and safety rules.

We did encourage original thinking.

The result is 15 spectacular creations that show a fresh view of the future. Some of the designs look like they might not be ready for prime time until 2050, but our panel of expert judges agree it this type of exercise that can create innovation.

The judging panel consisted of Tom Peters, executive director-performance cars and fullsize trucks, General Motors Co.; Dan Vivian, director-engineering design, Hyundai-Kia Motors North America; and Jane Harrington-Durst, manager-color styling, PPG Automotive Coatings.

While each vehicle interior is unique, a number of common threads can be found. Many of the students took their inspiration from shapes and structures found in nature.

Leaves and honeycombs formed the basis for vehicle seats. Tree-trunks, lettuce leaves and the fluid curves of sand dunes became the ideation for other vehicle structures and surfaces.

While some of the concepts may appear far out to those working in the trenches of today’s struggling auto industry, mimicking natural structures and materials is a hot topic in advanced automotive design.

Another startling aspect of many of the student designs is asymetrical organization of seats. The interiors still have visual balance, but seats are not lined up in the neat rows to which consumers are accustomed.

One designer based his asymmetrical interior color scheme on that of coy fish.

That is the kind of design you see when people are not bound by what has been done before.

Ward’s announced the four finalists in the competition Wednesday, April 14 at the SAE Congress and exposition in Detroit.

The grand award winner, as well as the winners of two special awards from IAC and Lear, will be announced May 19 at the Ward’s Auto Interiors conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, MI.

The finalists are:

Jason Ho – His design features dramatic, angular shapes modeled after various types of kites. Interior components are made from raw materials incorporating almond shells and other recycled materials.

Jaymer Starbody – His futuristic vision of the ultimate in environmental friendliness combines elements of today’s architectural, plant-covered “living walls” with a body design modeled after the structure of a lettuce leaf.

Matthew Dunford – The architecture of the Dubai Opera House, which mimics the fluid lines of natural sand dunes, inspired his flowing interior lines. The baby seat is a unique egg shape that cocoons the infant securely and monitors vital signs.

Dean Bakker – In a design drawn directly from nature, his seats imitate the shape and color of leafs and headrests “grow” out of the B pillar.

Each of the finalists receives a $500 scholarship. The Grand prize winner gets an additional $1,000.

A special Innovation Award sponsored by Lear Corp. will be bestowed upon the student whose work includes a specific design or technological innovation the judges deem particularly creative and forward-thinking.

This award will be accompanied by a CCS scholarship. The Innovation Award recipient may or may not also be the grand prize winner or one of the finalists.

The award may be an additional honor to a student who earned a grand prize or finalist honor, or it may be awarded to a student who does not earn one of those placements.

A Special IAC EcoBlend award sponsored by IAC will be awarded to the student whose design or concept best utilizes lightweight renewable/recyclable materials.

This award will be accompanied by an internship opportunity at an IAC facility. The Green Award/internship recipient may or may not also be the grand prize winner or one of the finalists.

The award may be an additional honor to a student who earned a grand prize or finalist honor, or it may be awarded to a student who does not earn one of those placements.

The designs of all 15 students will be showcased at the Ward’s Automotive Group booth through Thursday at SAE and at the Ward’s Auto interiors conference May 19.