Obviously we believe the HERE autonomous cars simulator is a great way of highlighting driverless tech, but what do independent experts think? We’ve been talking to a few respected automotive industry influencers to validate just how good the simulator actually is.
Jeffrey Hannah is a director at SBD Automotive, a global automotive technology research firm, and he was one of the people who tried the simulator in person.
“Overall, I found it incredibly exciting,” says Jeffrey. “Many of our automotive OEM clients are really struggling to figure out a compelling user experience for autonomous vehicles, especially with level three cars which need to be able to drive in autonomous mode and also hand over control to the driver at any given time. What’s particularly compelling about the simulator is that HERE provides a user experience that switches between autonomous and manual driving while always providing confidence, trust and information to the person operating the vehicle.”
With the need to hand over control to autonomous cars, trust in the vehicle and technology is particularly important, and Jeffrey highlights this confidence as one of the simulator’s stand-out features.
“There are lots of ways that the simulator helps to build trust, including intuitive interfaces in the driver’s line of sight, so they can see what’s going on inside the vehicle, what’s going on just ahead of them as well as the different situations they’re experiencing.”
Starting from scratch
According to Jeffrey, the displays and interface also help to make it clear to the driver exactly what’s going on, even though autonomous driving is something that’s completely new to most people. “Unlike testing the latest navigation system or app where you have alternative versions to compare, with autonomous technology, it’s a brave new world.”
That’s why automakers are turning to firms like HERE to help them come up with a user experience that’s never been done before, Jeffrey adds: “Although it’s difficult to start from scratch, I think HERE has done an excellent job of rendering something that’s very innovative without being overwhelming.”
The user experience will play a vital part with autonomous cars, and Praveen Chandrasekar, a consulting director and integral part of the automotive team at Frost & Sullivan points out that his time with the HERE simulator was a “cool experience”, and with a properly programmed route encompassing different kinds of roads and environments, it actually exceeded his expectations.
“What made a lot of sense to me was the seamless switch between regular suburban driving and autonomous driving out on the highway. The handover will be one of the biggest challenges facing automakers, and unless you’re aiming for full-scale autonomous driving – which is literally self-driving – then you need to have a very airtight mechanism where who takes control during which situation is abundantly clear. That dual mechanism, the time it takes and the alerts for how it happens has to be almost seamless, and that’s an area a lot of OEMs are struggling with.”
“What I saw within the simulator was very clear alerts, very clear haptic feedback and a useful head-up display, a lot of prompts for who has control and how all that can work together. It helps to support the driver, and it can build trust and address the biggest challenges.”
It’s a thought that’s echoed by Oliver O’Brien, a researcher at UCL Department of Geography, who saw the simulator during our latest #insideHERE event in Berlin together with Doug Newcomb and Bradley Berman.
Oliver points out that the concept can be used to try out different configurations and locations of controls and maps, with the key aspect being how much trust a user can place in the car based on what they can see and the information that’s displayed.
“It’s an impressive simulator and crucial to shaping the UI of the autonomous cars which are starting to appear on the horizon,” says Oliver.
Greg Basich, an industry analyst with Strategy Analytics, came to the conclusion that it was at its most impressive when handling the switch between different driving modes in the driving scenarios presented by the simulator.
“I thought the transition between modes was smooth, although it’s tough to put it into the context of what it’ll be like in an actual vehicle, but it did seem like there was a fair enough warning time to transition between the different modes based on the different situations you experienced, so that was done well.”
How the simulator could be improved
“If you can then add more driving situations to the simulation, with more dangerous or unusual experiences on the road, and you can manage to transition between the two modes with the vehicle taking the correct safe action, it’s a great way to build trust.”
Greg’s wishes are about to come true, with the prototyping team already working on improvements to the design that will include different visualisations and story scenarios, along with more HERE services.
With the HERE driving simulator offering an experience that most people have never tried before, education will play a big part when it comes to autonomous technology, and Greg also had some positive words for the HERE team presenting the demonstration:
“If you put somebody in the simulator, unless it’s much, much more advanced (and I haven’t seen anything like this so far), it’s good to have somebody there to help guide you through the process and make you feel comfortable, and I thought the people explaining the demonstration and the intent behind it did a great job.”