10 Aprile 2008

TALKING CARS. An interview with Ing-Marie Jonsson

 A collaboration between Toyota and Stanford University is experimenting a talking car interface that does much more than navigation, providing safety advice to drivers. Ing-Marie Jonsson is one of the authors of the paper - presented today at CHI 2008 - that describes the experiment. She gives us more information about their work in the following interview:

What can a "talking car" do for its driver, besides the usual navigator functions?
”The future of in-vehicle information systems will include personalized access to different driving and convenience related information sources, weather, traffic, news food, shopping, activities, special events etc. and entertainment/work such as music , videos, and internet activities (web, email). Social networking functions will enable people to meet and socialize based on common interests. More uniquely, the GPS ability of the car furthermore enables social networking based on common locations. “

Could a talking car cause “undesired side effects" in driver’s behaviour?
”Yes. While it’s different to a passenger, if a talking car is not designed properly it can distract the driver. Talking when the driver is in a difficult driving situation, or interrupting the driver, or simply providing incorrect information (thus making the driver frustrated) - can all cause the driver to exhibit decreased driving performance and a negative attitude towards the talking car.”

How did you study users to understand the effects of your talking prototype on them?
”We design experiments using human participants that interact with speech based in-vehicle information systems while driving a car simulator. This gives us precise control over both the speech system and the driving environment. To study situations when drivers show bad judgment and inattention due to the speech systems, we design driving scenarios that are often hard and full of traffic situations.”

Did you find any surprising behaviours?
”Dealing with an in-car speech system is different than dealing with one in a lab or office, and is most definitely different than dealing with other human passengers.  We have found differences in behaviours ranging from gender differences to age differences. For example, certain high levels of inaccurate information can cause male drivers to drive extremely badly, whereas female drivers remain largely unaffected. Both genders correctly determine how ccurate the system is, however female drivers are appear to be far less affected by this. Not surprisingly however, we found both gender stereotyping (navigation recommendations more believable using a male voice) and higher trust and liking of same-gender voices.
Another interesting find is that the car is a special environment for older drivers. In a study investigating how the age of voice impacted driving behaviour of older adult and young drivers, we found that all drivers prefer the young voice in the car. Older adult drivers like and trust the young voice more than the older adult voice when it provides hazard and warning information in a car. This is surprising since when the same information is given in an office setting; older adults prefer and trust the older adult voice over the young voice.
We have also seen how a system that is too attractive and fun can be disastrous, a recent study showed that when a conversational system in the car was too interesting to communicate with, drivers forgot about driving with disastrous consequences.”

How do you imagine in-car information systems of the future?
”Including all the features that I mentioned before, we see a well designed in-vehicle information systems a system that is helpful, without being intrusive, a system that is fun and engaging without moving the drivers’ attention away from the driving task. This requires attention to design and a trade-off in attractiveness vs being ignored.”

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