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HMI 2.0 – a ‘symbiotic relationship’ between car and driver

AUTONOMOUS CAR DETROIT: Autonomous vehicles will need new human-machine interface (HMI) designs to develop a level of trust, observes Freddie Holmes

The advent of autonomous driving is set to bring about the next generation of human-machine interface (HMI), according to Chris Rockwell, Chief Executive of ‘human experience consultancy’ Lextant. Speaking during Autonomous Car Detroit by Automotive Megatrends, he explained how this will require OEMs – and thus their supporting Tier 1 suppliers – to design completely new interaction designs to instil trust in the vehicle’s capabilities.

The primary issue is that people generally trust technology to follow rules, but only trust people to make judgements. For the case of the autonomous car, which will need to make decisions on behalf of the person seated behind the wheel, this is a significant hurdle. “As the technology gets better, it will begin to make judgements and consumers will be able to reflect on those judgements. We already have autonomous situations every day where we jump in the passenger seat and trust our friend to drive,” he said. Rockwell believes that the industry can learn from these situations and begin to design ways in which an autonomous vehicle can establish trust with its owner.

“We have autonomous situations every day where we jump in the passenger seat and trust our friend to drive”

“If your friend was swerving within lanes and was overly harsh or late in braking, you wouldn’t trust him to drive. Trust is a function that denotes: ‘I am aware and in control, even though I have granted that control to the technology in the vehicle’,” explained Rockwell. “A principle I have learned in 30 years of user experience design, is that people universally hate unpredictability and ambiguity. It doesn’t matter if it is a phone, a person or a vehicle,” he said. “If it acts in an unpredictable way which cannot be modelled, mapped or understood, people have a tendency not to trust it and use something else.” This is an important principle, because the industry is effectively building “a giant black box that will take care of everything,” he advised.

Also speaking during the event, Dave Anderson, Senior Manager of Automotive Integration for NVIDIA’s Automotive Business Unit, explained that this man-machine communication could potentially be a “symbiotic” relationship in future.

“The idea of feeling in control is going to be very important” – Chris Rockwell, Chief Executive, Lextant

Ultimately, Rockwell believes it is key for consumers to understand what the driverless technology is capable of, and for the vehicle to communicate the status of such automation at all times. “The idea of feeling in control is going to be very important,” he noted.

But what kind of interaction will there be between the autonomous car and its disconnected driver? “The driver might need to communicate to the vehicle that it needs to make an adjustment, and that is the driver’s responsibility,” noted Priyantha Mudalige, R&D Group Manager at General Motors. This could be in the event where a driver wishes to divert off course from the original programmed route, or even to override speed limit control to avoid a traffic jam.

Developing such a HMI system ultimately falls into a a wider range of challenges that the industry needs to conquer in order to bring autonomous vehicles to public roads. As NVIDIA’s Anderson observed, developing the autonomous car “will probably be one of the most complex problems we solve in our lifetimes.”

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