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New Research Highlights Problems with Semi-Autonomous Driving Systems

by Derek Viita | Jan 30, 2017

New simulator-based research published in the journal Human Factors last week studied reaction time for hand-offs and take-overs in a semi-autonomous highway driving scenario.

The findings were startling.  Even with specialized audible and visual warnings, median takeover time for participants was almost 5 seconds, equating to over 400 feet of travel at motorway speed.  Takeover times for some study participants ranged as high as 25 seconds.  And in more interesting or disturbing news, depending on your viewpoint, the presence of a distracting task (in this case reading a magazine) was found to add a mere 1.5 seconds on average to a takeover event.

The conclusions of this research add to our numerous calls for action based on consumer clinics of on-market semi-autonomous systems.  Design of the HMI within autonomous driving systems will be absolutely crucial to its future success.

Strategy Analytics has benchmarked and rated 13 different semi-autonomous driving and parking systems using a proprietary quantitative rating algorithm for automated systems, including Pilot Assist in the Volvo XC90, Tesla's Autopilot system, and Active Park Assist in the Ford Edge.  While some implementations tested better than others, each was riddled with a number of usability issues including scattered and unintuitive visual alerts, and unclear audible alerts.

In each of our benchmarks, we look at consumers who are experiencing semi-autonomous technology for the first time.  And in each case, consumers leave with (at best) mixed feelings about the future of the technology, largely due to the unclear and ineffective displays and warnings.  This current state of autonomous driving HMI does nothing to resolve the lack of trust consumers currently have with such systems.

If a vision of fully autonomous transport is to be realized, these completely solvable HMI issues must be addressed first.

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