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How UX&UI can help solve the challenges posed to self-driving cars

Konrad Mazur
Konrad Mazur
Business Transformation Expert
November 22
11 min

This is an article on the topic of challenges posed to designers of autonomous cars. It features a transcript of the results of the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities’ User Experience Design Subprogram Studies students’ work, as well as a deeper expert analysis to provide insight into the challenges and possible solutions.

Table of contents
The results of a student’s research about self-driving cars
New possibilities with autonomous driving
UX challenges for self-driving cars
Hicron Software House on a mission to support the development of innovative solutions

The results of a student’s research about self-driving cars

See the results of a student’s research about self-driving cars:

Who? A group of nearly 20 students (Postgraduate Studies – UX Design)

Where? SWPS University

What? Experiment: Design UX challenges for self-driving cars

The task: Plan the biggest challenges for designers of self-driving cars and propose possible solutions

Experiment description:

1. Select one of the groups of users: Drivers/ Passengers or Pedestrians

2. Write the biggest design challenges for self-driving cars from the perspective of your selected group

3. Try to find a possible solution for one selected challenge

Problem

Autonomous cars are like planes. You know they are safer than regular cars, but still, you have some mixed feelings. Building trust is not an easy thing. People look at the driver’s face when they want to make sure that they are in control and see everything. This instinctive human behavior won’t disappear because of some new technology, so it’s better to adapt to it. People trust a car if they know that it’s aware of its surrounding environment.

Solution

People trust machines when they know how they work, and they can predict what they will do. So, we designed a UI where the car always shows what it is doing at that exact moment, and what it sees around. We imagine a self-driving car with one display in the center. Everyone in the car can see it. It shows the state of the car all the time. This will be the “face” of the driver that you can check if you want.

Group 1: The first version – highlighting obstacles with red boxes

We highlighted every obstacle with a red box indicating bikers or pedestrians. When we tested this interface with people, we realized it does more harm than good. The red sign indicates danger and people want to do something to prevent the problem which is not possible in a fully autonomous car. So they became stressed.

Group 2: The second version – highlighting obstacles with red lines

In the next iteration, there were drawn red lines instead of red boxes. The lines separate the car from the people like a fence and ensure that the car is paying attention to the pedestrians and the cyclists. People understood the concept, this design was way more successful on the tests.

New possibilities with autonomous driving

Note: the resource was created together with students of the User Experience Design Subprogram Studies (SWPS)

Some features may enter permanently with the use of self-driving cars. Many of them will be iteratively refined based on user feedback evaluation. New means of transportation will create new behaviors. Early adopters will shape the future of autonomous driving.

Control it with your voice

We will be able to control the car with taps, but in most cases, we will use voice control to tell our destination. Cars can be the first electronic devices where voice will be the most convenient control. Although, we will still need a screen to check things quickly. Humans are asynchronous creatures. Our best output is voice but visually we can process information faster.

Request self-driving cars

You will be able to request a self-driving car with a tap on your phone and it will arrive in a few minutes. You don’t have to clean, maintain or repair your car anymore, these services will take care of all the boring tasks. Cities will be the big winners of the car revolution. With electric vehicles, air pollution and traffic noise will significantly reduce. We won’t have to park cars all day long. Imagine if we could plant a tree in every parking spot in the city.

Use your commute time however you’d like

And what will we do while the car takes us to our destination? You can watch the new episode of your favorite TV show, visit sights with the built-in guide or just darken the windows and enjoy the relax mode. Texting is not a problem anymore.

Good news for workaholics too: you will have more time to check your emails or prepare those presentations. User testing was not as straightforward in this case as in our other projects: we couldn’t just sit down with a user and hand them a mobile with an application. We had to make them believe they were in a car without actually being in a car. For a couple of weeks, one of our rooms in the office did seem quite crazy if one didn’t know what is happening. The future is not this simple.

Why is user research important? Explore the topic

All these innovations will make transportation safer, and give us more free time, but won’t solve the biggest problem of cities: we don’t have enough space. As Elon Musk pointed out, in high-density urban areas we will need more efficient transportation methods.

Examples of other challenges and solutions proposed by students

#1. Passengers/ Pedestrians

The challenges for designers of self-driving cars:

• How can we provide more interaction during shared commuting?

• Infrastructure for eating together? e.g.: breakfast

• Passenger identification, e.g.: how to pick up a child from school?

• Teleconferencing in cars?

Possible resolutions:

• Voice recognition

• Subcutaneous chips

• Face recognition

• Fingerprint scanning

#2. Passengers

The challenges for designers of self-driving cars:

• How to make the passenger also pay attention to what is going on around him after all and react if necessary?

• Or put in place such solutions to ensure maximum safety and accident-free driving?

Possible resolutions:

• Systems for learning and detecting user behavior, controlling their actions, activating them to react when necessary, eye-trackers

• Connected systems that collect detailed and real-time data on traffic and other participants in the traffic flow – digitization of cities

#3. Pedestrians

The challenges for designers of self-driving cars:

• How can we inform pedestrians that the car has performed some rescue work on a passenger?

• How do we inform pedestrians that a passenger needs help?

• How to inform about the car emergency to avoid collision with other cars/passers-by?

Possible resolutions:

• Visual indications of the car’s status

• Communicating to the surrounding area that the car is autonomous (visually)

• Sound system to inform of approaching car

#4. Pedestrians

The challenges for designers of self-driving cars:

• How can we increase the sense of safety among pedestrians? A different driving style?

• Provide a good sense of being recognized by the car?

• Interaction with unfamiliar users of such technology?

Possible resolutions:

• Provide visual messages to illustrate/announce speed reduction by a non-autonomous car

• Driver visualization in driverless cars

#5. Passengers

The challenges for designers of self-driving cars:

• How can we maximize the full potential of an autonomous car?

• Who gets into your car?

Possible resolutions:

• When the car is not in use by the owner, it earns money for itself as an autonomous cab

#6. Pedestrians

The challenges for designers of self-driving cars:

• How to create confidence in autonomous cars among pedestrians?

• How do we ensure safety at pedestrian crossings (ensure that the car stops)?

• How can we ensure recognition of pedestrians in difficult conditions (storm, night)?

• How do we make the autonomous car recognizable?

• How can we ensure that pedestrians do not abuse safety alerts in an autonomous car (e.g.: running into the street after identifying the car)?

Possible resolutions:

• Pedestrian crossings equipped with thermal sensors that transmit information to cars

UX challenges for self-driving cars

The challenges and solutions for self-driving cars mentioned above in the student experiment are only examples. The challenges are much more difficult than those mentioned above in the experiment.

Driver’s trust is one of the major UX issues facing self-driving cars today. Driving is already a dangerous task, killing thousands of car accidents each year. Trust is not something that self-driving cars can easily get. However, trust is not the only UI/UX design issue.

More Hicron’s Expert View: Industry 4.0 in Europe

Some UX issues act as possible bumps on the roads of self-driving cars. Technology is being developed at a speed previously seen as impossible, but integration is far from seamless. The main concerns address questions such as:

• Is the car safe to drive?

• Are humans ready to trust self-driving cars?

• Does the design stimulate trust in the driver?

As you can see, the main issue in the minds of UI/ UX developers is trust. It’s important that the design is safe and reliable, but you also have to beat the vigilant driver.

Developers can fully optimize unmanned driving technology, but the future of this technology is bleak if users are not willing to use these vehicles.

It’s up to UX and UI designers to address the challenges that can impede the adoption of self-driving smart cars and devise solutions that foster safe and tech confidence.

UX designers involved in the creation of self-driving cars may have solutions to these questions and other concerns about the future of self-driving cars.

Learn more about the benefits of good UI & UX

In an interview with Pascal Soboll, Head of Daylight Design Europe, gathered insights into current user experience issues based on his first-hand experience in designing self-driving cars.

Soboll gave an expert opinion on how UX design will affect the future of self-driving cars. He provides three main design tips:

#1. Appropriate communication with passengers

The average consumer is not ready to get into the car and be 100% reliable. Soboll believes that passengers holding the steering wheel will need some signal to indicate that self-driving cars have been invented for 100 years. Automakers have been experimenting with private cars since at least the 1920s.

Self-driving cars are a reality today, but how much does it cost? Let’s take a look at some of the UX design challenges that still plague these breakthrough innovations and what developers are doing to overcome them.

#2. Manual control at least initially

The transition from driver to the passenger seat is not an easy task for most people. This is a whole new experience, a series of systems that can take some time for the driver to feel completely comfortable.

Soboll recommends combining automation and manual control to soothe the driver, at least until the confidence in the self-driving car increases.

#3. A small step towards fully autonomous driving

The automobile industry is on the verge of change forever. However, rush adoption can compromise the user experience and the idea of self-driving cars. UI/ UX design takes years to completely transition driving to the digital experience that users want.

In the world of self-driving cars, technology is catching up with imagination. It is no longer a “what if” issue, but a “when” issue. However, the widespread integration of self-driving cars is not a guarantee.

How to avoid business transformation failure
by using design thinking strategy? Get Hicron’s Expert View!

Careful UX and UI design, performance testing, and redesign are required to achieve an autonomous vehicle that not only operates safely but also promotes consumer confidence and use. With the help of smart UX design, the future of self-driving cars can be bright.

Hicron Software House on a mission to support the development of innovative solutions

For years, we have been supporting companies in the automotive, insurance, construction, and many others on the path of digital transformation and legacy updates. We design and conduct workshops relevant to doing business in the era of digitized business processes. On our blog, we additively share technology, business and expert knowledge.

If you are facing the challenge of digital transformation and need expert support, contact us. We work to successfully support companies like yours.

Konrad Mazur
Konrad Mazur
Business Transformation Expert
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