Continental Psychologists Involved in Interface Development

FRANKFURT, Germany — The auto industry is going through the biggest upheaval since the invention of the automobile. Digitization, networking, semi-autonomous driving functions and, above all, the rapidly changing user behavior of people require new mobility concepts. The automobile is becoming the much-cited “smartphone on wheels.”

In the future, highly automated vehicles will offer the occupants more space for relaxation and entertainment and serve as a partner who interacts via intelligent language assistance, 3D displays, and innovative functions. A positive user experience (UX) is essential for the success of new vehicles today. This means that the development of new automobiles is becoming increasingly complex.

A major challenge is to anticipate what people will want, need and expect from communication, entertainment content and mobility solutions in five to ten years and beyond,” explained Guido Meier-Arendt, Human Machine Interface (HMI) Principal Expert at Continental. “To do this, we must rethink mobility. For example, we will increasingly offer cloud-based services in the future. The automobile becomes part of a mobility network in which different road users communicate seamlessly with each other. This creates a holistic and safe mobility experience.”

Continental follows a user-centered development approach: the needs of people are at the center of all technological developments. While that sounds obvious, it is an extremely complex task.

“The first step in every development is to understand the user and their context,” said Meier-Arendt. “The crux of the matter is that needs and expectations depend both on the current situation and on enduring user characteristics.

“As a technology company, we have to find out what people really need – even if they may not be able to articulate this themselves. In addition to systematically involving the user in technology development, we also apply approaches to HMI vision development.”

Future studies, current usage trends – such as popular consumer electronics and video gaming – as well as a wide range of cultural, sociological and demographic factors are analyzed and taken into account. This gives the Continental experts an initial idea of which solutions will make mobile life safer, more convenient and more efficient in the future.

Psychologists are crucial for a positive user experience

How does a technology have to be designed so that people can trust it? In order to receive realistic feedback on the effect of new products, the developers at Continental, in cooperation with the in-house psychologists, use so-called “Wizard of Oz” vehicles.

Test subjects are told that they are driving an autonomously steering car – although behind a curtain on the passenger seat is a Continental engineer steering the car via right-hand drive. The behavior of users was tested and recorded with a deceptively real-looking autonomous drive. Test subjects were instructed to make phone calls, type text messages, eat and drink, and even turn to the back seat. Based on this data an algorithm was trained to generate a suitable response from the intelligent monitoring and HMI system for every user status in the cockpit.

For example, if the driver’s head was turned backwards, the seat vibrated to draw attention to a warning display. Alternatively, audio warning signals were played. Afterwards, in intensive psychological interviews, it was examined in which situation and which feedback the test subjects felt safest and most comfortable.

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