Self-driving technology promises to dramatically change the way we interact with our cars, and in ways we're not entirely sure of yet. Audi has teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering to explore how people will spend their time in autonomous cars, and how manufacturers can best tailor their cabins for work, rest or play.
According to Audi, the average driver spends around 50 minutes sitting in their cars on a daily basis. Self-driving cars open up more options, and the 25th Hour project is all about working out how to facilitate the best possible use of that time in an autonomous vehicle using an "intelligent human-machine interface."
The project started off by analyzing how people use the infotainment systems in their cars today, and trying to predict what passengers might want to do in future. Having consulted with experts in fields like psychology and anthropology, the team defined three "time modes" it thinks will be required in a self-driving car: quality time, productive time and time for regeneration.
From there, Audi turned to the Fraunhofer Institute to find out how a self-driving cabin might look for each of these modes using a specially-developed driving simulator. The simulator has an adaptive (steering wheel-free) cabin, complete with dimming windows, changeable ambient lighting and the ability to simulate background noise. Massive projections are used to make it feel like the car is driving through a city at night.
A group of 30 millennials were hooked up to an EEG for brain monitoring and asked to perform a range of tasks that require concentration. After the tests, brain activity, errors and subjective impressions were also taken into consideration.
Unsurprisingly, test subjects were most relaxed in a disturbance-free environment, with dimmed windows, gentle lighting and a minimum of interruption from the car's on-board infotainment. Also unsurprisingly, brain activity shot up when the test participants were bombarded with advertisements and notifications from their phones.
"The results show that the task is to find the right balance," says Melanie Goldmann, head of Culture and Trends Communication at Audi. "In a digital future, there are no limits to what can be imagined. We could offer everything in the car – really overwhelm the user with information. But we want to put people at the center of attention. The car should become a smart membrane. The right information should reach the user at the right time."
Although the findings seem obvious, finding the right balance between providing information and minimizing distraction is already playing out in our cars. BMW has been particularly active in creating concepts designed to deliver huge amounts of information clearly, while Mercedes has its own very distinct ideas about what the self-driving cabin of the future will look like.
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