Category Archives: automobiles

Interface aid for hyper-milers

I have at least one friend who admits to “hyper miling,” or watching the MPG gauge at all times and trying to keep his average as high as possible. In one way I find this to be a fascinating task that one could use to study multiple-cue learning, pattern recognition, or adoption of superstitious behavior. (After all, was it kicking the car to neutral that saved you that .0005 gallons or the slow acceleration after the stoplight?) In another way I find the amount of attention dedicated to monitoring an in-vehicle interface alarming.

As far as I know, the only display that allows hypermiling shows the current MPG and an average MPG. You have to experiment and learn for yourself what speeds under what conditions change your MPG, and you learn this via the numbers shown. This requires you to remember previous numbers and compare your current performance to past performance.

Honda will augment their normal speedometer with a new display that can give faster (and pre-attentive?) information on your MPG. Called the Ecological Drive Assist System, it gives you a green background when you achieve high MPG, blue for middling, and red for “stop driving like a maniac.”

But that’s not all.

A portion of the dash display is dedicated to a game. Instead of depending on the intrinsic reward of keeping up with your MPG, the Honda will grow you a tiny electronic tree as you cumulatively save gas while driving. I think this is an incredible idea that will create hypermilers out of normal people and absolute fanatics out of hypermilers.

Aesthetically, I’d have made this a little seed that grows into a pretty tree, but I’m sure Volkswagen will eventually run with an idea like that for their implementation.

Remaining human factors questions:

  • What kind and amount of attention is dedicated to this display?
  • Green AND blue are fatiguing colors for night driving. You can turn the display off, but who will actually recognize it is the colors that are making night driving more difficult?

Thanks to Rose Marie Yagoda for sending me the original post from Engadget.

Smart Cars

Recently, an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) hit the news in Europe. I’ve always been interested in advanced navigation systems (and their problems), so I check in on some of the research programs occasionally. After all, individual differences from culture to aging all affect how we use navigation systems.

The original article I mentioned briefly addresses the errors these systems may cause:

Drivers’ uncritical reliance on their sat navs has led to a growing number of mishaps. Last year a woman wrecked her £96,000 Mercedes SL500 trying to drive across a swollen ford through the River Sence in Sheepy Magna, Leicestershire, after her sat nav told her it was a passable route.

…but spent most of the time discussing the errors they catch.

In addition to instructions on when to slow down or change gear for the best fuel economy, motorists will also be warned when they are driving erratically and will even be told at the end of the journey if they have caused undue stress to parts of the car.

Of course, getting to the end of the journey may be more difficult using the current navigation systems. This finding comes from Ziefle, Pappachan, Jakobs and Wallentowitz (2008) who gave an ADAS to older drivers to compensate for age-related perceptual declines. They compared younger and older drivers using either audio or visual aids:

When no assistance was present, driving performance was superior than in both assistance conditions. The visual interface had a lower detrimental effect than the auditory ADAS which had the strongest distracting effect. In contrast to performance outcomes, the auditory interface was rated as more helpful by older drivers compared to the visual interface.

Driving and Talking in California

The new law, which generally bars drivers from talking on their phones unless they use a hands-free device, takes effect today, nearly two years after the Legislature passed it. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, customers have been flooding into stores to buy hands-free devices, particularly wireless headsets. 

The Mercury News

With recent news that it is now illegal in California to use your mobile phone while driving (unless you have a hands-free device), I thought it would be interesting to note that it is not the “holding the phone” that is the problem, it is the cognitive requirements of multi-tasking (driving and talking) that is the problem.  Hands-free will not solve this problem.  As Strayer, Drews, and Crouch (2006) noted:

When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.

Strayer, D. L., Drews, F. A., & Crouch, D. J.  (2006).  A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver.  Human Factors, 48, 381-391.

Trust in Automation

I’ve heard a great deal about trust and automation over the years, but this has to be my favorite new example of over-reliance on a system.

GPS routed bus under bridge, company says
“The driver of the bus carrying the Garfield High School girls softball team that hit a brick and concrete footbridge was using a GPS navigation system that routed the tall bus under the 9-foot bridge, the charter company’s president said Thursday.Steve Abegg, president of Journey Lines in Lynnwood, said the off-the-shelf navigation unit had settings for car, motorcycle, bus or truck. Although the unit was set for a bus, it chose a route through the Washington Park Arboretum that did not provide enough clearance for the nearly 12-foot-high vehicle, Abegg said. The driver told police he did not see the flashing lights or yellow sign posting the bridge height.

“We haven’t really had serious problems with anything, but here it’s presented a problem that we didn’t consider,” Abegg said of the GPS unit. “We just thought it would be a safe route because, why else would they have a selection for a bus?””

Link to original story (with pictures of sheared bus and bridge)

Indeed, why WOULD “they” have a selection for a bus? Here is an excerpt from the manual (Disclosure: I am assuming it’s the same model):

Calculate Routes for – Lets you take full advantage of the routing information built in the City Navigator maps. Some roads have vehicle-based restrictions. For example, a street or gate may be accessible by emergency vehicles only, or a residential street may not allow commercial trucking traffic. By specifying which vehicle type you are driving, you can avoid being routed through an area that is prohibited for your type of vehicle. Likewise, the ******** III may give you access to roads or turns that wouldn’t be available to normal traffic. The following options are available:

  • Car/Motorcycle
  • Truck (large semi-tractor/trailer
  • Bus
  • Emergency (ambulance, fire department, police, etc.)
  • Taxi
  • Delivery (delivery vehicles)
  • Bicycle (avoids routing through interstates and major highways)
  • Pedestrian”

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If we can assume no automation can be 100% reliable, at what point to people put too much trust in the system? At what point do they ignore the system in favor of more difficult methods, such as a paper map?At what point is a system so misleading that it should not be offered at all? Sanchez (2006) addressed this question and related type and timing of error to amount of trust placed in the automation. Trust declined sharply (for a time) after an error, so we may assume the Seattle driver might have re-checked the route manually had other (less catastrophic) errors occurred in the past.*

The spokesman for the GPS company is quoted in the above article as stating:

“Stoplights aren’t in our databases, either, but you’re still expected to stop for stoplights.”

I didn’t read the whole manual, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say the GPS would warn you of stoplights, a closer analogy to the actual feature that contributed to the accident. This is a time where an apology and a promise of re-design might serve the company better than blaming their users.

*Not a good strategy for preventing accidents!

Other sources for information on trust and reliability of automated systems:

Lee, J.D. & See, K.A. (2004). Trust in Automation: Designing for Appropriate Reliance. Human Factors, 46, 50-80.

Parasuraman, R. & Riley, V. (1997). Humans and automation: use, misuse, disuse, abuse. Human Factors, 39, 230-253.

Wiegmann, D. A., Rich, A., Zhang, H. (2001). Automated diagnostic aids: the effects of aid reliability on users’ trust and reliance. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 2(4), 352-367.

The Cognitive Engineering Laboratory

A suit that simulates the physical effects of aging used by Nissan

Carmaker Nissan Motor is using a specialized driver’s suit and goggles to simulate the bad balance, stiff joints, weaker eyesight and extra five kilograms (11lbs) that may accompany senior citizenry.

Associate chief designer Etsuhiro Watanabe says the suit’s weight and constriction help in determining functionality and accessibility within cars by putting young designers not only in the minds of the mobility-challenged, but also in their bodies.

 wwwreuterscom.jpg

Japan aging suit puts car makers in senior circuit | Technology | Reuters

Changing behavior via awareness of energy consumption

animationnew.gifThere is an episode of the television show Seinfeld (“The Dealership“) where Kramer is test driving a car. During the test drive, Kramer notices the fuel gauge is empty and he wants to know how far he can drive before he really runs out of gas.

While I haven’t gone that far I like to see how fuel efficiently I can possibly drive. My car has a dynamic display of instant fuel economy in miles per gallon (my record is 37.5 MPG in a non-hybrid sedan).

Why do I do this? I don’t know–perhaps an innate competitiveness. But I know others who do this as well. Why not capitalize on this change in behavior by including more energy consumption displays in more products and even in the home. The image on the left is a new home energy monitor which tracks electricity, gas, and water usage.

localcooling.jpgHere is a new application that displays energy usage on your PC (found via Download Squad).

While research is mixed on whether these devices actually lead to reduced energy consumption, they sure are fun to look at.

Life imitates art (Nissan GT-R)

The new Nissan GT-R is a sports car that’s about to be released in the United States. The car has been a popular model in the Playstation game Grand Turismo. Apparently, the car’s striking information displays (the real car, not the game car) were designed by the creators of the Grand Turismo series (Polyphony Digital/Sony Computer Entertainment). Certainly fancy, but usable?

nissan-gt-r.jpg

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Unintended consequences of technology (more automation induced problems)

Satellite navigation devices have been blamed for causing millions of pounds worth of damage to railway crossings and bridges. Network Rail claims 2,000 bridges are hit every year by lorries that have been directed along inappropriate roads for their size.

I guess it would be cost-prohibitive to put this bridge information into the GPS databases…

[link, from Engadget]

‘Mind-reading’ car keeps drivers focused

A “smart” dashboard that reduces the amount of information displayed to drivers during stressful periods on the road could be available in just five years, say German engineers.

A team from the Technical University of Berlin found they could improve reaction times in real driving conditions by monitoring drivers’ brains and reducing distractions during periods of high brain activity.

They were able to speed up driver’s reactions by as much as 100 milliseconds. It might not sound much, but this is enough to reduce breaking distance by nearly 3 metres when travelling at 100 kilometres per hour, says team leader Klaus-Robert Müller.

[NewScientist]