Fully Autonomous Cars
Self-driving Cars UX Case Study
The days of manual car driving are numbered. And many people believe we won't even own cars in the future. Uber is ordering 100000 self-driving cars from Mercedes to provide an on-demand autonomous car service. Even BMW is planning to start an “Airbnb for cars” business.
At UX Studio we sometimes have lab projects where we can play around with new concepts and techniques we wouldn't normally have the opportunity to try out with clients. This time we dived into the world of self-driving cars and tried to imagine what the future holds.
Domain Knowledge and Interviews
We started the project with competitor analysis researching in-flight systems because we thought self-driving cars and planes have similarities we should explore. We took a look at Virgin, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, and many others, along with other smart cars to know where the industry stands. Later we conducted user interviews mostly with Tesla owners to explore the human side as well.
Paper sketches are an excellent tool for jotting down a lot of ideas in a short amount of time. We knew from the get-go that we don't want dozens of displays in the car; only one. We ideated on how the passenger will navigate, the entertainment system itself and of course the most crucial part: showing what is happening around them at all times.
Autonomous cars are like planes. You know they are safer than normal cars, but still, you have some bad 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.
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 us. We imagine the self-driving cars with one display in the center. Everyone in the car can see it and 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.
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.
Second version: highlighting obstacles with red lines
In our next iteration, we drew red lines instead of the red boxes. The lines separate the car from the people like a fence and ensure you that the car is paying attention to those pedestrians and bikers. People understood the concept, this design was way more successful on the tests.
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 where we can 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 and noise pollution will reduce significantly. We won’t have to park the cars all day long. Imagine if we could plant a tree in every parking place 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 favourite 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 of course. Good news for workaholics too: you will have more time to check your emails or prepare those presentations.
Research is the base for everything
When making the first draft of the navigation system with the possible obstacles on the road we were sure of our solution. Luckily with user testing and mini-interviews, we realized that our mental model might not be the same as other people's.
Sometimes you have to improvise
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 are 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
All these innovations will make transportation safer, and give us more free time, but won’t solve the biggest problems 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.