Customizing the Autonomous Vehicle Ride Experience
|TIMELINE||February 2020 - May 2020 (3.5 months)|
|ROLE||Product designer, Design researcher|
Given a projected market size of USD 1.33 Billion by 2027, it seems like it's only a matter of time before autonomous vehicles hit the streets of the world.
With the imminent rise of autonomous vehicles, how might we help the general public to curb their skepticism and fear of riding a L5 autonomous vehicle? [note: L5 vehicles are fully automated with no steering wheels or pedals]
Assumption/Constraint: Due to the timeframe of the project, I made the intentional decision to not involve the physical aspects of the car (e.g. did not explore what it'll be like to have a screen in the vehicle).
(1) Did research to understand the landscape of the self-driving vehicle space, including chatting with professors, engineers and designers from Waymo.
(2) Reviewed literature and studies on the progress of autonomous vehicles from the perspective of users.
(3) Learned about the factors that affect how trust is formed between humans or humans and products.
(4) Conducted informal user interviews to learn about parallel experiences (e.g. ride sharing or buying a used vehicle) and their general sentiments about self-driving.
(5) Synthesized findings in the form of a persona.
(6) Brainstormed and iterated on concepts to best suit this persona.
(7) Created wireframes and prototypes, then conducted quick guerilla testing on interaction patterns of screens.
(8) Iterated and implemented changes based on feedback.
(9) Explored visual design and motion design for the app (responsiveness & motion is directly correlated to users’ level of trust of the app).
Overarching Principle (synthesized from research)
Users want to maintain a level of control or feel like they are able to intervene in the situation when they feel the need to.
Concept #1 - Educational website
When people want to make purchases of an item that they are not well-informed about, they would often learn about it through online reviews, forums or videos. These pieces of information will educate them about the product and help them make better informed purchase decisions.
This concept of an educational website will allow people who have taken a ride in an autonomous vehicle to document their experiences. People who are interested or curious about the experience can use this website to learn more about it.
Concept #2 - "Moving people back in space"
The concept is to “move people back in space” so that they are “seated” as far away from the front as possible. This experience can be created either physically or virtually (through augmented reality or virtual reality).
When I was trying to understand why riding a bus can feel like a safe experience even though passengers have no control of the vehicle, I hypothesized that that not being able to see the front of and beyond the vehicle removes a layer of anxiety. Later on, one of my user interviewees mentioned that he would prefer to either sit facing or at the back of the vehicle, so that he will not be able to see the front and “lose the need to trust”.
Concept #3 - Augmented reality windows in vehicles
The concept is to allow riders to understand what the vehicle is “seeing” and doing and its reasons for doing so at that moment in time and immediately after. This can potentially be done through augmented reality windows.
People like to be in control and like to know what is going on with systems. Waymo currently has an excellent system of informing riders about what the vehicle is currently doing and why they are performing certain actions. However, passengers view their vehicle on the screen from a bird’s eye perspective. I wanted to explore the possibility of providing this information and more, from a first-person perspective through the windows of the vehicles. Think of it as vehicle heads-up display, but for all windows.
Concept #4 - Customizing comfort levels (think: music equalizer)
This concept is to allow passengers to customize preferences and settings of their autonomous vehicle ride.
For people new to a product, the ability to test or do trial runs help them to understand the product much better. It also serves as an educational tool to let skeptics know that the vehicles will “listen” to them and help them ease into the experience of using these vehicles.
For people who are seasoned riders, they can customize advanced options to match their preferences. Think of the concept like a music equalizer; people are able to toggle settings (within limits) to make their music sound the way they want it to.
An app that allows first-time riders (or seasoned riders) to customize their autonomous vehicle experience by setting certain preferences.
In reality, when these vehicles are approved to operate on the streets, they will operate within a set of safe and fixed settings, and there is nothing to worry about. This app puts a small amount of control in the hands of the users to help them ease into this entirely new experience.
This idea was inspired by a music equalizer, where there are preset settings for quick selection, but users also have the ability to perform more in-depth customization.
Through research, I found that (1) maximum speed, (2) sudden increase or decrease in speeds, and (3) following distance, were important factors to determine if the passenger enjoyed their ride, regardless of who drove.
Feature #1 - Vehicle actions + emergency stop
The vehicle's actions are displayed on the top of the screen. There is also an emergency stop button. This button requires a swipe (rather than a typical tap) to prevent accidental triggers. This opens up a screen that now requires a simultaneous swiping of 2 buttons to stop the vehicle.
[note: accessibility was not full considered for this design, and will iterate on this in further exploration]
Feature #2 - Customizing maximum speed
For this feature (and the rest of them), I experimented with micro interaction and motion design to indicate immediate feedback by the app and the vehicle. This provides an additional level of assurance, which directly contributes to building trust.
Feature #3 - Acceleration & braking
People's preferences for braking and accelerating is difficult to quantify. As such, this setting was designed for users to set their preferences based on their feelings through trial and error. The interface was inspired by the gear shift in vehicles today.
Feature #4 - Following distance
It is difficult to set a comfortable following distance in absolute units of measurement, as such, the distance is visually represented in terms of car lengths. This was inspired by my lessons on defensive driving in Singapore.
Reflections / Next Steps
I loved working on this project because the problem felt so real yet distant (which is the generally the mixed sentiments of people who I spoke to for this project), and a huge part of this project was about first convincing myself of the viability of autonomous vehicles.
I would loved to carry out some level of user testing and simulation to further validate my concept. I was in contact with a few people in this space and made plans to visit their offices, but these plans never materialized because of the pandemic.
Looking at this from another lens, there is a lot of potential in how the form of both the exterior and interior of the vehicle can affect the trust and adoption of vehicles (I gathered some data during user research, but never used it for this chosen concept)
If you're someone working in the autonomous vehicle space or a potential future user of the technology, I would love to have a chat about this!