During the Spring of 2010, I worked with my industrial design classmate Rachel Inman on a project to research the possibilities of and interactions within a semi-autonomous vehicle. A semi-autonomous vehicle is one in which drivers have the option of driving themselves or letting the vehicle drive completely on its own.
Our industrial design class divided into groups and worked on separate concepts for the same theme, after which ideas from each group were integrated into a more refined concept by students who continued to work on the project over the summer. Some of the ideas that Rachel and I proposed, including a steering wheel that has varying states for autonomous and manual modes, were adopted to be a part of this further refined concept.
Rachel and I focused our research on the needs of multiple users who share a single car and designed make tools to ask these users about their current driving experiences. Additionally, we gave a survey to 30 people with an average age of 44, most of whom shared a vehicle with a friend or spouse. We created the survey to help us evaluate what drivers in our user group wanted from their vehicles.
The first of our make tools involved creative story telling. To learn more about users who share a car, we asked couples who ranged in age from 29 to 56 to describe a driving experience from one place to another. The couples defined these places themselves, and communicated their experiences by attaching words and images to a Velcro board. Each member of the couple completed the make tool individually and then joined the other member to share insights. The make tool helped us understand each driver's individual perspective and the couples' shared views on driving situations. It also illuminated some important issues surrounding social interactions in cars, which became a central focus for our final concept.
After our initial research, we brainstormed large, window-based concepts that synched with mobile devices (an example with an Apple iPhone is shown above) and provided backseat passengers with entertainment such as children-friendly interfaces for finding nearby attractions (shown below). We decided to move away from large, window-based concepts for safety reasons.
Our second make tool was an in-car labeling exercise. It asked current drivers to show their ideal car interior by attaching labels from a word bank to their existing car interior. Through this make tool, we were able to learn about individual preferences for interior features. The exercise sparked discussion about essential versus optional information and the idea that, as with personal computers, users should be able to customize their interfaces.
The in-car labeling excercise taught us the importance of individuality between drivers. This paired with what we learned about car-sharing from our first make tool led us to the idea for having the ability to physically switch between drivers. We proposed a concept in which there are three driver modes: a left driver mode, a right driver mode, and an autonomous driving mode. The concept allows drivers to switch if they are tired, need to apply makeup, or are unable to drive for another reason. The vehicle will drive itself while this switch is made, and a customizable colored light will briefly illuminate to indicate the current driving mode. The autonomous driving mode will allow both drivers to rest at the same time if they are unable to drive, like when they want to look at children and other passengers in the back seat.
Using all of our research, we created a diagram of physical and digital input within a current automobile. We used this in conjunction with research from our in-car labeling exercise and couples make tool to determine where each feature should be and when it should be in its determined location.
We then mapped these features onto a theoretical car interior to communicate where they might be in each mode of our semi-autonomous vehicle concept.
This is an interface that we designed based on the information from our user input and feature map. It would be located at the bottommost part of the vehicle's windshield. It features a central area that displays information all passengers may want to see like current speed, battery life of the car, and Internet strength. It also features the vehicle's mileage and driving mode in a large, easy to read format. The display can be customized to the users' specifications to include other features like music selection and navigation, but the central area, mileage, and driving mode are always visible.
Above is an image that shows how the steering wheel can recess while in fully-autonomous mode. This prevents drivers from grabbing the wheel due to mistrust in autonomous technology (one of the leading causes of accidents in vehicles with automatic parallel parking), and creates more open space in the vehicle's interior.
This is a sketch I did of what the concept could look like if it was produced. We kept the directions for the navigation system on the upper interface shown earlier, but put the map on an interface that would be accessible throughout the vehicle. This makes navigation a shared experience between all passengers and allows passengers in the back seats to help passengers in the front seats. The interface can be used for other tasks such as browsing music and the Internet. It can also be shared by passengers for collaborative activities such as games and navigation or sectioned off to individuals in different seats for personal entertainment.