Interaction Design for Robot Cars

By all accounts, the self-driving vehicle, unlike the personal jetpack, will come to a salesroom near you sometime in the near future. When an idea moves from speculation to designed product the work necessary to bring it into the world means that it is necessary to consider the many, many facets of its existence — the who, what, how, when, why's of the self-driving car.

It's easy to speculate about the self-driving car. But, touch on the topic of allowing one's self-driving car to be used in the Uber network of modern-day taxis immediately begs the question — what do you do if you forget a bag of groceries after sending it into Uber mode? Will there be a geo-fencing mechanisms to control where the car goes — and how fast it goes — when you give the "keys" to your teenage son to take to football practice. How does the car pickup groceries — and how do you upload the list — when you send it on errands?

To spark a conversation around the larger questions regarding a world of autonomous vehicles, we set about to create a tangible artifact from the near future of the self-driving car. We ran a workshop at IxDA 2015 in collaboration with students from the CCA and conference participants to create the interaction design for a self-driving car. We did this as a way of digging into the details, discussing the known topics and raising many more unknown ones. Our design brief: Represent the features, attributes, characteristics and behaviors of the self-driving car and its requisite "ecosystems" through the vehicle's Quick Start Guide.

The result helps:

  • Get a feel of the things you might do first and do often with your first self-driving vehicle.
  • Experience the consequences and implications of a world with self-driving vehicles. 
  • Discover how Design Fiction can help you discover the unknown unknowns for your projects.

The Design Fiction workshop

Together we followed a Design Fiction approach to produce a Quick Start Guide for a technology that could substantially change mobility in the future. First, over the course of four hours we identified the key systems and the FAQs that implicate the human aspects of a self-driving car. For each key system, we illustrated the interaction, described the system and the steps for its use. The FAQs represented what we determined might be questions raised by the new self-driving car owner. Using the Quick Start Guide format as a Design Fiction archetype provided a way to focus the workshop discussion in order to identify topics that may not come up when discussing the larger system. It also forced us to create rather than just debate, and represent topics concisely to focus the work and challenge us to describe features succinctly.

This Quick Start Guide Design Fiction archetype is a natural way to focus on the human experiences around complicated systems. The Quick Start Guide implies a larger ecosystem that indeed may be quite complex. It also allows one to raise a topic of concern without resolving it completely — often an approach that's necessary in order to not be bogged down in details before it's necessary. For example, mentioning that it costs more to park your car rather than sending it back on the roadway as a taxi is a way to open a conversation about such a possibility and its implications for reclaiming space used by parking garages.

In a short amount of time, we brought to life such experiences in a very tangible, compelling fashion for designers, engineers, gurus, and anyone else involved in the development of a technology. The QSG became a totem through which we can discuss the consequences, raise design considerations and hopefully shape decision making. This approach leads to better thinking around new products, a richer story and good, positive, creative work.

To continue reading the rest of the article visit the Near Future Laboratory.

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