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Automated Cars: A New Road User, A New Perspective for UX

What is the role of intelligent systems like automated cars in public space? Tackling a change of perspective in automotive industry.

You want to walk over the street at a pedestrian crossing and a two-ton metal robot approaches. Looking for confirmation through the windshield you see somebody on what used to be the driver’s seat looking at his smartphone. Would you cross?

Traffic grew over decades to fit human-human interaction. With fully automated cars, we introduce a new player in this ecosystem and suddenly there is a completely new design challenge: we need to design these vehicles for other road users’ trust and acceptance. Up to now UX designers in the automotive industry were 100% focused on passengers. We needed to change this perspective

  • from inside/passenger to outside/road user,

  • from a system that is steered by a human being to a system that proactively takes decisions in the public.

This involved questions totally new to automotive industry. Which information is really relevant for road users? Which role does a robot car play in the ecosystem of traffic, which behavior is acceptable and effective and how human-like it should be?

We designed on a blank sheet of paper for a technology which could not be experienced yet, with methods that did not exist yet and in a surrounding were most people did not even understand the questions we asked. Here is what helped us to tackle the change of perspective and find a viable solution.

Lenja Sorokin

Designing interaction with intelligent systems in a holistic way … currently this is the most fascinating challenge for me!

When I joined BMW in 2012, as a project leader and user experience expert, I brought along the expertise gathered working for five years (2007-2012) as a UX consultant. One year later, I personally initiated and established research on automated cars and human road users at BMW and have become the thought leader on the topic since then. Aside from working as a researcher and consultant I have also held lectures for Interaction Design students at the University of Applied Sciences in Augsburg.

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