Why did my car just do that ?

When confronted with new technological possibilities most companies and governments tend to focus on functional optimisation. Unfortunately, however, public acceptance of the new products or services is only partly related to functional excellence, being instead also highly dependent on the psychological and sociological naturalness and appropriateness of the interaction.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University highlights this issue for the case of semi-autonomous driving. Using a driving simulator which was equipped with an auto-braking function, they tested different messages from the car which provided advanced explanation of the car’s planned autonomous actions. Messages providing only “how” information such as “the car is braking” were found to lead to poor driving performance, whereas messages which provided “why” information such as “obstacle ahead” led to better driving performance. Providing both “how and why” information resulted in the safest driving performance, but increased negative feelings in drivers.

The Stanford research highlights the need for vehicle manufacturers to design not only the autonomous actions themselves, but also the way of explaining what is happening to the drivers.