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Designability release design considerations for user-friendly interfaces for driverless cars

Older man using human machine interace in a driverless car

We are pleased to share findings from a project where we designed and developed a Human Machine Interface (HMI) for use in driverless cars.

The three year Flourish project explored how innovations in autonomous, i.e. driverless, vehicle technology could be delivered in the UK. It also addressed how connected transport systems could be designed to enhance the travel experience for older people.

According to Age UK, over 3.6 million people over the age of 75 years live alone in the UK. Autonomous vehicles offer the opportunity to reduce loneliness by providing a tool for older adults to travel independently, therefore supporting them to carry out everyday tasks, as well as do the things they love when they want to.

In addition, autonomous vehicles present a more accessible platform for road travel so that even people who have never driven or are unable to drive due to health reasons (such as those living with reduced mobility or visual impairment) can travel as they choose.

Collaborating with older people to design a user-friendly interface

Our role in the project was to design the in-vehicle Human Machine Interface (HMI); a screen within the vehicle which the user interacts with in order to define their journey (destination, stops, route preference etc.). The HMI also provides information to the user about their journey during travel.

Older man sat with young woman in front of computer screen

In order to meet the needs of older people, we consulted with them at every stage of the HMI development. Designability ran in-house design workshops and HMI testing sessions to get feedback on, and thereby refine, specific HMI features. The HMI software was built by project partner Connected Places Catapult prior to rigorous testing, as follows:

  • Early HMI testing with older people was conducted during a series of simulator based trials at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, by researchers from the University of the West of England and Cardiff University. The HMI design was developed following each trial to enhance functionality and improve usability.
  • Later trials took place on private roads at UWE’s Frenchay Campus and at St Monica Trust retirement village on Cote Lane in Bristol. These trials used the ‘pod zero’, prototype autonomous vehicle supplied by Aurrgio.

The trials served to validate the design and give older participants a glimpse of what future travel may be like.

Man selects driving options from Human Machine Interface device

Ten insights and considerations to inspire good interface design

Throughout the project, we placed users and stakeholders at the heart of the design process. They influenced the design direction and supported our designers in delivering solutions that meets their needs and desires.

We are pleased to share our insights which we feel will inspire good interface design for older adults:

  • Make it attractive and clear
  • Balance function with simplicity
  • Anticipate user error
  • Make it consistent
  • Make it flexible
  • Keep the user informed
  • Make it intuitive
  • Make it approachable
  • Break down tasks into steps
  • Make it adaptable

The full insights ‘Designing user interfaces for older users of future autonomous vehicles’ can be seen on the FLOURISH HMI website.