Autonomous vehicle UI - part one

Autonomous vehicle UI - part one

Many companies are working to include self-driving capabilities in their future vehicles. Car manufactures and ride sharing companies will offer fleet programs where owners allow their autonomous cars to taxi customers to their destinations. Delivery and freight services will also use autonomous trucks for long distance haulage. The combination of these shared-car networks and a gig economy could result in users interacting with many autonomous vehicles on a daily basis, made by many different manufactures. Each one having a heavily customised and exclusive array of interfaces. Think of the last car info-entertainment system you had to figure out for the first time. I bet it wasn't fun. Now imagine that same first experience but you're not trying to play music or type an address, instead, you're looking for reasons to trust the car with your life.

No matter what shape vehicles in the future take or what their interfaces become, it is paramount that they communicate what they're doing as well as when (and how) they might need assistance. Ideally, the systems would communicate in a common way such that users don't need to relearn it for each new car experience. If the system feels familiar, then people are going to find it easier to trust.

A way to achieve this might be a standardised UI language or at least following a set of shared principles when designing human-autonomous-machine interactions (HAMI?). Ones that focus on establishing trust between human and machine. This would not only reduce user anxiety but could also shorten the time to mass-adoption and social-acceptance of self-driving vehicles.


Exploring icons
One of the most common autonomous functions of a car is the ability to steer itself down a highway. It is a responsibility that might also be the most stressful to hand over to a machine - as such I think it’s a good place to start.

Sketches of the road and car icons

The icon below symbolises the road ahead of the car. When the car is put in charge of steering, the edges are highlighted blue to indicate the car can see the bounds of its lane. It can also be used for lane departure warnings when the user is steering, to prompt the driver to correct their lane position.

Here is a prototype to show how the road icon might look when accompanied by the speed and an icon at the bottom to represent the car. The road icon animation shows a change of lanes, dismissing the old edge and aligning with the new. It allows the car to communicate to the user the state of its understanding as it performs the manoeuvre.

Sketched plan of the lane changing animation

It would be interesting to explore which level of fidelity is best for graphics and icons in representing the environment around the vehicle. More realistic graphics might be better in some ways. However, simpler icons would be easier to integrate into branded/existing UIs and most importantly they are more recognisable.

This is just a start to get some thoughts out there. If you have any research or suggestions, ✉️ or @me. Thanks.