Vehicle overload – the warning signs

It’s not until you watch someone learn to drive a car that you realise just how complex the task really is.

I have a 17 year old daughter who recently passed her test – after many hours of nervous invisible peddle-stamping from me – and a slightly younger son who will be starting out on the same path in the not-so-distant future. Seeing the complexity of driving through their eyes is a bit of a – well, an eye opener.

And it’s soon going to become even more complex.

Technology is available today that adds layers of augmented reality to the driving experience – HUD overlays being just one example. Forward-looking radar, backward-looking cameras and augmented night-vision cameras can all help us to become more aware of what’s around us. Automated controls can automatically apply breaks to avoid a collision.

This article on explains another angle being applied by Ford, inter-car communication to avoid collisions. In the demo that Ford gave, cars communicated with each other about dangers on the road – stalled vehicles in your lane, sudden breaking, cars approaching from the side in a junction, etc. These communications of danger alerted the driver with sounds and warning lights.

Teaching a 17-year-old to drive is complicated, because they have to learn:

  • How to move the vehicle
  • How to stop the vehicle
  • How to extend their awareness of ‘me’ to include a huge piece of equipment far wider and longer than they are
  • How to communicate with other vehicles (indicators, etc.) and how to predict the movement of other vehicles in return
  • How to obey road rules and control a vehicle within them
  • How (and when) to use in-car control systems

Now add to that list:

  • How to use, interpret and respond to augmented reality layers
  • How to respond to and manage automated behaviours (breaking or steering)
  • How to respond to and manage inter-car warnings and communication

I had an argument with someone recently on LinkedIn, about the future of cars and safety. My argument was that one day accidents should be pretty much avoidable entirely, he argued not.

I still believe I was right; car technology is approaching a level where vehicles can automatically avoid other vehicles and objects by steering, breaking and accelerating. Google has played with driverless cars to assist with mapping, and other car companies have tested similar technology. It is not going to be too long before commercially available cars have the capability to drive in a fashion safer than we as humans could manage.

But until that time – and I think it’s at least a few years, possibly even a few decades away – we will have to manage an increasingly complicated set of feedback and safety mechanisms embedded in our family vehicle.

For that reason, usability and UX are going to become increasingly crucial in the applications of these technologies.