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Naturalness of autonomous vehicles


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  Prof J Giacomin  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Problem Statement

Naturalness and simplicity are well known prerequisites of success in product, system and service design. Autonomous vehicles have, however, few precedents in human history and are thus generally unfamiliar to people. It is thus currently difficult if not impossible to establish which autonomous vehicle characteristics and behaviours might be judged to be “natural” by the general public. The proposed research will investigate the physical, psychological and sociological construct of “naturalness”. The new research will build upon previous work performed in relation to current commercial automobiles, and will extend upon the traditional concepts by considering the more anthropomorphic interactions which occur in the case of the new autonomous vehicles.

Programme of work

Literature review of the psychophysical, psychological and psychosocial theories of communication between automation and people, with specific emphasis on issues of communication asymmetry, communication appropriateness and implied ethics.
Literature review of the product semantics, semiotic symbols, and semiotic communication channels of current automobiles, with specific emphasis on driver expectations and communication stereotypes.
Ethnographic and focus group activities to identify the main interfaces where semiotic communication occurs in current automobiles and in the new autonomous vehicles.
Ethnographic and focus group activities to analyse existing driver stereotypes about the non-verbal and verbal channels of communication in current automobiles and in the new autonomous vehicles. The activities will specifically probe mental constructs such as intuitiveness, naturalness, trust, control, free will and ethics.
Definition of a “naturalness of communication scale” which can be used to measure the naturalness of interaction between people and vehicles. -Selection of “naturalness of communication” scenarios to be analysed by means of experimental testing in the driving simulator.
Driving simulator testing of the “naturalness of communication” scenarios with a minimum of 20 individuals.
Analysis of the “naturalness of communication” by means of the newly developed scale and in terms of related standard metrics including response time, error analysis, NASA-Task Load Index and emotional Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM).
Final reporting.

Value of the research both commercial and academic

The rise of automation is proceeding rapidly and the autonomous vehicle, which constitutes a form of artificial life, will soon be a reality on the streets. The research will address a fundamental issue which must be addressed if the new autonomous vehicles are to be accepted and appreciated by the general public. The research will develop criteria for evaluating whether an interaction with an autonomous vehicle can be considered “natural or not” and will define design guidelines for introducing the criteria into the automotive design process. Recent research has identified the issue of “naturalness” as being one of the main roadblocks to the timely introduction of autonomous vehicles, thus research to address this fundamental issue would seem urgent.

Funding Notes

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: Recently the UK Government made available the Doctoral Student Loans of up to £25,000 for UK and EU students and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.)
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