As a teenager, I imagined self driving cars to very much work like the taxi cabs in the original 1990 Total Recall movie or Sandra Bullock's police vehicle in 1993's Demolition Man. Today, we are much closer between imagination and reality and know that the actual interface of autonomous vehicles will resemble the appearance of a 1990's car cockpit much more than any designs in science fiction flicks.
Google's patented layout is virtually unchanged from the layout of a standard production car with a navigation screen. The only obvious difference is the addition of an information or status bar "to indicate the current status of vehicle". According to Google, "various other audible and visual indicators may also be employed".
The patent explains that the autonomous mode of a car is almost exclusively based on the computer's ability to determine whether vehicle is at a geographic location that allows safe self driving control. If the computer cannot identify the location, autonomous driving cannot be enabled. There are other hurdles to the autonomous driving function, "such as when the computer detects a plurality of obstacles proximate to the vehicle" and when there is enough driver input that prevents autonomous operation.
Some luxury cars today already offer a function that is very close to Google's autonomous driving model. Lane departure control and prevention, distance and brake control with automated re-acceleration ability are driver assistance feature that can already be purchased, for example, in Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz models that some may consider just one step away from a self driving car.