Category Archives: transportation

Human Factors Potpourri (again)

Here are some more human factors-related items that have crossed my blog reader:

  • Twitter is hot!  Oprah recently twittered on her show and apparently fell victim to a usability problem:  the update button was non-obvious so she never posted her tweet (Touch usability)
  • Fellow HFE blog Real World Usability will be posting updates of the Ergonomics Society Conference via Twitter
  • A night at the hospital from the patient’s point of view.  Grad student Kathleen Von Eron-Sherman documents her experiences in the hospital through human factors-colored glasses (unfortunately this article is behind a pay wall or you can visit your local library).
  • The newly introduced Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 mandates that hybrid vehicles (which are whisper quiet) include noise to make them more apparent to pedestrians (AutoBlog)

User Perception of Automobile Brands

I often hear people in HF say their users “don’t always know what they want” or that users want something that isn’t good for them. (One example might be a touch screen when a touch screen is not appropriate.) Consumer Reports lists the top automobile models by perception of a brand in certain categories.

The categories they used were:

  1. safety
  2. quality
  3. value
  4. performance
  5. environmental friendliness
  6. design
  7. technological innovation.

As far as I can tell, each brand got a point every time they were mentioned as the example brand for a certain category by 1,745 randomly surveyed participants via phone. They don’t list the question, but I imagine it was something similar to “What brand do you think of when you think ‘safety’?” Here are their findings.

Toyota – 193
Honda – 149
Ford – 109
Cadillac – 102
Mercedes-Benz – 100
GMC – 98
Lexus – 95
BMW – 95
Chevrolet – 94
Volvo – 88

Here are the 5 weakest:

Jeep – 21
Hummer – 19
Saab – 18
Mazda – 17
Suzuki – 7

Obviously, the numbers are smaller than you would expect. This is because they are an index. The numbers beside each brand reflect the number of times participants mentioned the brand as an example of one of the 7 categories, then divided by the number of “unaided” mentions. Consumer Reports states that this division corrects for awareness level, so the most popular brands don’t get artificially bumped up. I admit I don’t understand exactly what they are getting at there. I assumed an “unaided” mention of a brand was one not in conjunction with a particular category, but again I’m not sure how that is a correction for brand popularity. Jump in if you have an idea about this.

The Consumerist blog pulls a number of Consumer Reports sources together nicely into one post, which I recommend reading. It also provides a lengthier discussion of pure reliability rankings for automobiles.*


Consumer Reports – Overview and list of the top perceived brands

Consumer Reports – Top 5 in each category

*One caveat: the rankings listed here (and on The Consumerist) are a combination of the seven factors. Consumerist lists them only as “reliability” in order to compare them to the list of actual reliability rankings. The lists don’t match up, but I suspect it has more to do with the top 10 ranking coming from 7 factors (including factors like “environmental friendliness”) and the top 10 reliability ranking coming from only factors linked to reliability.

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.

Inner and Outer Outed

Redesigned Beltline signs to drop ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’

RALEIGH – No more “Inner” and “Outer” for Raleigh’s Beltline. Soon it will be Interstate 40 and Interstate 440, east and west.

The state Department of Transportation is about to make good on a long-standing promise to get rid of the Inner Beltline and Outer Beltline signs that get lots of motorists mad, confused and lost.

This human factors redesign feels personal. I’ve bemoaned the difficulties with the Raleigh loop signs for as long as I’ve lived here. I know people who have no trouble with it, but I am incapable of translating “inner” or “outer” into actual directions, especially during the multi-tasking required for driving toward an entrance ramp and thinking about where my destination is in relation to my current position.

I think the greatest difficulty comes from translation. To know which way the inner beltline goes, the driver must mentally step through the following (at least until s/he just memorizes what ramp to take).

  1. Raleigh is surrounded by a loop with 12 o’clock in the north.
  2. I’m at about the 9 o’clock position approaching an on-ramp from outside the city.
  3. My destination is close to the 4 o’clock position, so it would be best to go right to get there.
  4. Right is….
  5. Right is… uh
  6. Right is inner or outer?
  7. Ok, inner means inside the outer. In the U.S. cars go in prescribed directions on certain sides of the street, so looking down at the beltline I can expect cars on the inner side to be going north from where I am.
  8. Wait, is that true 180 degrees on the other side of the circle? I think so…
  9. So that means that the inner beltline is going clockwise?
  10. That means that the outer beltline goes counter clockwise which is to the right and where I want to go
  11. I want the counter clockwise entrance
  12. The counter clockwise entrance is the outer beltline

No wonder I’m always late.

For a bonus, don’t miss out on the typical “common sense” comments attached to the News & Observer article.

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?