Research puts the play into self-driving cars – and the future commute

Self-driving cars are no longer the stuff of science fiction but how will future commuters cope when they’re stuck in traffic without even driving to distract them?


PhD researcher Sven Krome developed AutoPlay with a focus on the design and user experience of self-driving cars

A new in-car entertainment system called AutoPlay developed at RMIT could be the answer, making self-driving traffic jams more fun as well as boosting future commuters’ physical and mental health.

Sponsored by Audi Electronics Venture GmbH,AutoPlay has been developed by PhD researcher Sven Krome under supervision of Professor Steffen Walz (now at Curtin University) and Associate Professor Stefan Greuter (RMIT University).

The driverless Google Car has already driven more than 1.5 million miles and is currently out on the streets in a few selected places in the United States.

Semi-autonomous driving technologies such as traffic-jam-assistance are already on our roads and even more advanced automation technologies are in the pipeline of almost all car manufacturers worldwide.

Research into self-driving cars has so far been focused on safety and how the car can perceive its external environment, but AutoPlay looks at the design and user experience – crucial elements for drivers to start accepting autonomous vehicles on their daily journeys.

Krome said research had found that the acceptance of even basic driving automation is rather limited.

Moreover, experience studies on advanced automation systems such as adaptive cruise control show that it comes along with a decreased feeling of competency, autonomy and control.

“This feeling is magnified in self-driving cars, so we needed to find ways to compensate for the loss of competency and control when the car drives itself,” he said.

AutoPlay features three applications for self-driving cars: AutoGym, AutoJam and AutoRoute:

AutoGym – An in-car exercise machine that connects the exertion program with the car’s speed.AutoGym allows people to exercise based on the flow of the traffic around them, connecting them better with a car’s movements while it drives itself. It also offers health benefits for those who spend a lot of time in the car.

AutoJam – A music application that allows you to “jam” with your favourite songs in the rhythm of stop-and-go traffic motivating the inactive driver to create music based on their surrounding environment. Unique compositions based on the ebb and flow of traffic are currently being developed by musicians for use in AutoJam.

AutoRoute – A navigation system based on what you want rather than where you want to go. For example, people can select “coffee” and the system will give a number of options, which can be swiped right or left depending for yes or no. The car then takes them to their chosen destination.

While developing the AutoPlay system, Krome investigated Melbourne car-commuters to work out the most stressful part of being on the road.

“We found that one of the worst experiences in traffic is when the car is at a standstill and we’re trying to find a way of making the stop more fun. All three applications are based on stop-and-go traffic,” he said.

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Story: Sarah Adams, RMIT University

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