Tactile Driver Interface

Interaction design, User research, Prototyping, Surface modelling, Blender
Advanced Industrial Design
Module Lead
Dr Stephen Green
This project is an exploration of more natural interactions with an autonomous vehicle. It is set in a context where the vehicle is capable of full autonomy, but the drivers’ attitudes have not fully caught up yet. Taking cues from traditional driving which hinges on haptic feedback and control, it aims to make people more comfortable with autonomous driving and help with the transition to autonomous future.
Loss of Control in Autonomous Cars
Despite the far-reaching positive impact that autonomous vehicles (AVs) are expected to have on society, over 70 per cent of the public state they would be afraid to get a ride in one. One of the reasons for this apprehensiveness was found to be the loss of control.

Concepts of future AV interfaces often feature touchscreens or voice commands. This project is an exploration of more natural interactions with an AV. The aim is to provide a solution that will make the driver feel engaged even when the car is fully autonomous. Through research it was found that a way to achieve this could be by relaying information about actions that the car is performing to the driver.

Actions that will be performed by an autonomous car were mapped out and a hierarchy was built so that the type of feedback depends on the significance of the car's action (e.g. pulling over requires a more intentional type of feedback than changing lanes).
Tactile vs Digital
Haptic control and feedback are crucial in driving. The driver senses whether the car is loosing grip through their fingers on the steering wheel. They can assess how much force they’re applying on the breaking pedal based on how hard it is to press. There is always an immediate reaction to the driver’s action. This allows the driver to build a mental model of how their actions affect the car when learning to drive and it becomes second nature.

On the other hand, touch screens are useful and often implemented instead of rigid interfaces with physical buttons because the digital interface can change depending on the context.

The interface combines the intuitiveness of tactile interfaces with some of the versatility of a touch screen. It is made out of a conductive flexible material that changes shape when communicating information - thanks to a servo array underneath. Because of this the shape can change based on the context.
Two use cases:
The driver is uneasy and focused on the road - the device is shaped to convey assurance
The driver is relaxed and not fully focused on the road - the device is shaped so that the hand can rest comfortably on top
The interface aims to help transition the user from scenario 1 to scenario 2 and eventually to a point where no such interface is longer necessary. In the end, the appeal of AVs for users is that they can focus on other activities while being safely transported from A to B.