Robert Broström, Senior Technical Leader User Experience at Volvo Cars
12:30 AM | May 16 2016

Self-driving cars and the value of time

Robert Broström, Senior Technical Leader User Experience at Volvo Cars, talks about how self-driving cars will redefine the relationship between humans and cars.

What do you think will be the biggest change in human behaviour inside an autonomously driven car?
“Drivers will definitely start doing things that they can’t do in a car today. Based on our early tests and observations, drivers start to use their time for other activities as soon as they feel that the autonomous car drives well and can be trusted. People do the things that they would like to do when driving manually, but are too risky, such as sending text messages or planning daily activities.”

Can you use design to encourage people to truly relax in an autonomous car?
Concept 26 – our vision of how the interior of the self-driving car of the future could look – is a good example of how car interiors could change. It is one possible way forwards.

“This kind of layout will require a different means of interaction with the car, of course. When the driver is reclined it might mean that voice control or some kind of remote control is a convenient way to control functions. A larger and higher-positioned display screen might also be needed. There are, however, a number of challenges which need to be addressed – safety, for example – when it comes to shaping the interior to meet the demands of the driver in an AD car.”

How do you make sure that people trust the car enough to fully enjoy the benefits of being autonomously driven?
“People must feel that they understand what the car is doing. To be relaxed when you are essentially a passenger in the driver’s seat of an autonomous car it is necessary to have trust in the way the car acts in different traffic situations.

“We believe that a holistic design approach that transparently explains the car’s actions will increase trust. This can be done by combining information in the car with its driving behaviour. The key is that the feedback the driver receives from the car is clear and intuitive – whether that’s through visual and audio information, through tactile sensations, or in the way the car drives.

For example, the car can display information about what it detects with its sensors, and it can inform the driver of intentions such as lane changes or overtaking of other vehicles. The car can also communicate to the driver through subtle shifts in the way it brakes or steers. It’s all about a clear line of communication. This is an important area of learning for the Drive Me project where we test autonomous cars in real traffic with real customers.”

How important is the transition between the driver and the car doing the driving?
“This is a really important part of the experience in an autonomous car. There must be no ‘mode confusion’, where the driver thinks the car is in control and the car thinks the driver is in control. This is why my colleagues and I are putting a lot of effort into ensuring that the interaction between car and driver is as good as it can be.

“When using driver support systems today the driver is always responsible and needs to constantly monitor the driving task. This will change when a vehicle is capable of driving in fully autonomous mode, so it is important to clearly differentiate who is in charge of the driving task.

“In the DriveMe project we will evaluate a solution where the driver pushes two buttons on the steering wheel to activate and deactivate the IntelliSafe Autopilot. The car will clearly inform the driver when it is time for him/her to take over the responsibility. This way of activating and deactivating differs significantly from the interaction with other driver support systems. “

Will autonomous driving change the dynamic of a road trip by allowing more interaction between those in the front and rear of the car?
“We’re exploring this through our research. Due to safety reasons it might not be possible to turn the front seats around, but when the driver no longer has to concentrate on the road there can be other means of interaction with those in the rear seats.

“Maybe a display screen in the front of the car could be used to show a live image of those in the back seats. An on-board video call. This could be a more comfortable solution than the driver twisting round in their seat. We are investigating many different ways in which people could socialise, be productive and be entertained when they are being autonomously driven.”

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about autonomous cars?
I think one of the most common misconceptions is that autonomous cars are ready for public roads now. It’s true that the technology is very advanced but currently the driver still has to monitor all the driving. There are so many other aspects to get right before self-driving cars reach production and that’s what we are working on now. Our Drive Me project, will provide us with crucial data within this field from 100 real customers on public roads around Gothenburg.

What do you think will be the most surprising benefit of autonomous driving?

“Understanding the value of time. It’s obvious that some of the time people spend in cars they don’t enjoy. To be able to let the car do the work and use that time for something else will be a revelation, I think.

“The ride in an autonomous car has the potential to be very relaxing, too. We talk a lot about being able to socialise, work and entertain, but you will also have the option of doing nothing, without having to concentrate on driving. The time you spend in your car could be time for yourself. It will be great to be able to choose what you want to do.

“In the Drive Me project we will let real customers test autonomous cars for long periods of time, which will give us a unique opportunity to closely observe how customers’ expectations connects with their real experiences. This will help us to understand what design features are most important to them. An important objective is to understand what the customer value of autonomous driving is and to make it as valuable as possible. The willingness to activate the autonomous function as often as possible is central to achieving the safety benefits that we are aiming for.”