Andreas Strasser
12:30 AM | July 7 2016

How customers are shaping the self-driving car

Andreas Strasser, Head of Research and Automotive Strategy at Volvo Cars, talks about how customers are helping to shape the autonomous-driving cars of the future.

Volvo Cars is using customer clinics to develop its autonomous driving technology – tell us more.
“We have customer clinics focused on autonomous driving taking place right now – these are in London, Los Angeles and Shanghai. We want to find out what people really think about autonomous driving and how we can make it as useful as possible.”

How do you do that?
“The first step is to install cameras and tracking units in people’s cars and follow them around for a typical week to see what they are doing, where they are driving and how they actually behave.

“This process is useful because whenever you talk to people you do not necessarily get their real intentions – they want to portray a certain picture of themselves.

“Using the cameras and using the recordings means we get an unbiased view of what people are doing in the car, which is great because that allows us to identify opportunities where autonomous driving can help.”

What’s the next step?
“The second step is to get those people, and other participants, into a room and have group discussions. We talk about driving in general, commuting and then autonomous driving as one of the potential solutions.

“Then a lucky few are invited back for a two-hour individual interview where we really go into the details. We drag out what we have also learnt from their drives and say, OK, let’s look at a typical drive and you have A, B, C, D happening here – what’s going on, why, and how could autonomous driving help you?”

Who are the people you talk to? Are they all Volvo customers?
“We recruit a mix of people. Volvo is on a transformation journey so it’s important that we talk to both our current customers and those that currently don’t own a Volvo to ensure that our future products appeal to.”

How will the information you collect affect the development of the Drive Me project?
“There are a couple of big decisions coming up that this work will influence. Firstly, it will inform how we design the user interface for autonomous driving. It is also a chance to make sure that we are on the right path for the Drive Me project and that our focus should be on regaining time lost during the commute.”

Will your findings influence how the cars behave and how the technology works?
“Ideally, yes. We ask ‘what makes a good driver’ and a lot of effort is spent on trust. What will allow people to trust a self-driving car?

“The answers will help us establish how trust is generated and what kind of driver they want IntelliSafe Autopilot to be.”

What are the most surprising things you’ve learnt so far?
“The interesting thing for me is that people seem to be much more open to the idea than what quantitative surveys led us to believe. There are obstacles, of course, but overall the people we talked to were much more open towards autonomous driving and its possibilities.”

How is Volvo approaching autonomous driving differently to other brands?
“The one thing that sets Volvo apart is that with Drive Me I think we have set a benchmark in the industry.“

"One of the problems in the development of autonomous driving is that the industry is developing a technology without involving the customer very much. Nobody has bothered to say, OK, let’s put those cars into customers’ hands and see what happens in real life.

“Customers come up with new ways of using your car and the world has new ways or new things that it throws at your cars that you never anticipated. Test drivers are fine but it’s only by having real people in the car that you find out everything you need to know.”