Autonomous cars hold great potential for clean, efficient mobility but could also threaten the emotional experiences involved with driving. In this explorative project for Daimler’s concept team I investigated how passengers can express their style onto a virtual driver.
Through a flexible arc passengers can freely express their preference in terms of assertiveness and engagement. The interaction results in a distorted shape that embodies the style of the ‘driver’.
The research and design activities revealed that an intervention like this could primarily increase feelings of safety when entrusting a virtual driver. Driving pleasure and freedom of expression were seen as added benefits that could help in re-connecting with the car.
In the early stages of the project I facilitated interactive interviews with commuters asking them about their idea of autonomous driving. By giving them ambiguous objects to play with, I wanted them to think about what happens when the steering wheel needs to be replaced.
“Driving as an end in itself”
Although some were fine with a passive role as passenger, a majority of people expressed how driving also fulfilled social desires. It could make them feel safer but also accommodate other emotional needs underlying the activity of driving.
Combining insights from the study with existing literature resulted in two main parameters that make up a driving style. Together, they embody a complex system of emotional needs that can be facilitated by an autonomous vehicle.
"Drive with style"
Some like to drive aggressively and others are more cautious. Distance to other cars, cornering speeds and acceleration speeds are clear expressions of this assertiveness.
When there’s a chauffeur you can either start reading a book or keep paying attention. Whether passengers want to stay engaged with the driving can influence choices for noise dampening, seating arrangements and suspension.
The way people drive is influenced by countless little interactions and through many mechanical interfaces. To incorporate this richness in a single interaction I experimented with various concepts that allow for users to really express themselves in motion and shape.
The final concept WARP is inspired by the stance of animals when communicating hostility or friendliness. By using digital fabrication methods I created an arc that can be pushed and pulled into distinctive shapes. The bases of the arc move further outwards or inwards to create either high ‘profiles’ or lower ones.
The extreme shapes correspond to the four profiles that are determined by the two main parameters but also allow for everything in between.