09 Aprile 2008

DRIVER DISTRACTION. Interview with B. Lathrop (VOLKSWAGEN)

What human
factors issues should future car interfaces take into account? The need to monitor the driver and to
mitigate driver distraction and inattention came out often in talking with Brian
Lathrop (Volkswagen Electronic Research Lab) Brian is one of the organizers of the special interest group
“Interaction in the Automobile” which is meeting this morning at CHI 2008.
Here’s the interview:

Thanks to
computers, the number of functions that cars are offering to drivers is
increasing. Is this always for good?

“This will
inevitably place more cognitive, motor, and visual resource demands on the
driver, leading to increased opportunities for driver distraction – and
possibly increased accident rates. In order to counteract these additional
demands it will be important to develop appropriate distraction mitigation
strategies in the form of variable driver assistance systems. Such strategies will need to take into
account the nature and severity of the distraction and deploy the appropriate
warnings and countermeasures. Additionally, designing the appropriate HMI to
mediate interaction between the driver and in-vehicle systems will be equally
important. Using internal and external vehicle sensors can help to inform
whether in-vehicle systems should be operated in the current driving conditions
and circumstances.”

How the
automotive industry is approaching the design of in-car interfaces?

“The
automotive industry uses a number of approaches to design in-vehicle
interfaces. One common method for designing and evaluating driver assistance
HMIs is to prototype the system in a driving simulator and test its
effectiveness with users. A common approach
for designing and evaluating HMIs for infotainment systems is to perform
usability studies with prototypes of the system (e.g., A-Samples, B-Samples,
etc). In addition to these two common
methodologies, heuristic evaluation, design guides, and market reviews (e.g.,
via JD Power) are applied to the design of the infotainment and driver
assistance systems.”


What is the
NHTSA 100 Car Naturalistic Study and is it important for interaction design?

“The
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released a summary of the
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of pre-crash naturalistic driving
data collected through instrumented vehicles. Drivers used these vehicles in their normal daily routines, were given
no special instructions, no experimenter was present, and the data collection
instrumentation was unobtrusive. According to the report, nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent
of all near-crashes involved driver inattention, just prior (within 3 seconds)
to the onset of the incident.
This is
important for interaction design because it suggests that important design
considerations for future driver assistance systems should be the inclusion of
a driver monitoring system. By
monitoring driver eye gaze and/or head position/orientation (proxy for driver
inattention), appropriate HMI warning types and strategies can be devised for
purposes of mitigating driver distraction. Additionally, these systems can
serve a double-use for certain types of user interactions with in-vehicle
speech and manual interfaces (e.g., gaze-dependent).”

How do you
imagine the interaction between driver and car in the future, thanks to the
research that is being discussed at your special interest group?

“The trend
in autonomy will increase, leaving the driver the opportunity to engage in an
increasing number of non-driving activities (e.g., work, entertainment,
communication, etc). It is unlikely, however, that the driver will be
completely removed from all driving related tasks. Responsibilities will likely
change from full control to system and state monitoring. This is similar to the
way pilots’ responsibilities have changed in the aviation industry with the
emergence of automated flight. The HMI will still be very important for safe
travel, as strategies will need to be devised to ensure that the driver is
rapidly and accurately brought back into the driving loop when critical events
arise (e.g., system failure, decision points, etc).”

If you found this interview interesting, do
not forget to read the one with David Krum (Bosch Research).

© 2008, Il Sole 24 Ore. Web report from CHI 2008.