Driverless cars need to make their passengers feel like drivers

Before people start truly embracing autonomous cars, first people need to trust them enough to ride in them. That’s not going to be easy — a recent study found that 88 percent of Americans said there’s no way they’d ride in a driverless car.

The way to get beyond those fears, according to Peter Skillman, chief of design at HERE, is to have the passenger feel like he or she is in control even when the car is in motion and taking a computer-generated route.

“Knowing where you are and what’s around is you is key to trust,” Skillman said at Roadmap 2014 in San Francisco. “You need a visual gestalt of where you’re going.”

There are lots of ways to make sure your passenger still feels like a driver, even if it’s a computer that’s steering the vehicle. One of the easiest ways is to provide the planned route in advance, which is also a good use for 3D maps.

Autonomous vehicles shouldn’t treat all passengers the same: People have preferences, whether they choose to drive fast or slowly, or prefer certain routes. Skillman had a term for when your personal preferences are integrated into a driverless car: “humanized driving.”

“If you don’t like driving in the rain you should be able to tell your car to take an alternate route,” Skillman said.

People hate surprises, but sometimes they’re necessary on a road — swerving to miss an obstruction, for instance. Design can help ameliorate this anxiety by providing hints subtle hints to passengers. A heads-up display can highlight broken-down cars on the side of the road, or construction up ahead.

“It’s important that you see the intent of the car to change lanes, so if your car takes evasive action you know why it happens,” Skillman said.

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