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Automotive Connected Cars Design

Autonomous cars must adapt to humans, not vice versa

Peter Skillman, the head of design for HERE, took to the stage at the GigaOm RoadMap event in San Francisco yesterday, telling the audience why, in the rush towards autonomous vehicles, we must not “Forget about the driver.”

For autonomous, self-driving, cars the question is when, not if, Peter said. We’ve already seen self-driving car demos from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Honda and Tesla.

A first step towards taking these prototypes from test tracks into a common sight on ordinary roads is connecting vehicles to the Internet. By as soon as 2020, 152 million cars will be connected. Car manufacturers are keen to make it happen and appreciate its value. “It’s critical to making a safe comprehensive experience with prediction at its core,” said Peter.

But while issues with technology, regulation and security are rapidly being ironed out, something (or someone) has been forgotten. “For driverless cars to take off, people will have to get comfortable with the idea of letting go of the wheel.”


Let’s not forget that people love their cars and – under the right circumstances – they love driving. And automation makes them nervous - a poll from Harris in 2013 found 88 per-cent of Americans said they’d feel worried about giving up control of the wheel.

So how do the creators of autonomous cars get drivers on-board with idea of the car taking over more and more functions of driving?

“Most people aren’t going to trust a car that drives like a robot,” said Peter. “An automated car needs to act like a person and not a machine… It needs to adapt to its owner and its environment.”


Like any relationship, trust is the key. And at HERE we believe a map is the key to establishing that trust.

“Not just any map. It needs to be highly precise, contextual and infused with intelligence.”

It needs to go down to 20cm precision, and contain hundreds of attributes like slope, curb height and lane configuration. It needs to take personal preferences into account and present us with choices based on a personal profile.


Peter believes that some principles from his own domain, the design world, are key to making cars that people will love.

“Beautiful essentials (making the things you do every day excellent), Alive (social and personal) and Pure (What you remove is more important than what you put in….a lesson in editing).”

This car-technology needs to be created with the driver in mind. It must present exactly the information she needs, in a way that’s relevant for her. Clarity is key: “If a driver isn’t clear about what will happen next, she will feel nervous.”

And the system has to be paced like a person, too. If the driver is expected to take too much in at once, or think too fast, they’ll lose confidence.

When people experience events like a car telling you what’s round the next corner, so you’re safe when you wouldn’t have been otherwise, then the trust can start to build. This requires an entirely new visual language that communicates the car’s intent that hasn’t been invented yet and this is a fabulous challenge both in terms of visual and user experience design.

Keeping that trust and making the experience more human is essential for self-driving cars to take off.

“If we can do that, the benefits to society are enormous – we can operate in a more sustainable way and we can save lives on the road.”

image credit: Luigi Colani concept car - L. Benkard


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