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Building automated vehicles that are in tune with your emotions

To succeed, highly autonomous vehicles need to be trusted. The EU-funded SUaaVE project developed software that can read and respond to users’ emotions. The human-centred design work will help Europe lead a rapidly growing market.

©deagreez #397985531 source: 2023

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Traditional drivers will soon become passengers in highly autonomous vehicles. This will enhance transport safety and sustainability, reduce congestion and augment leisure time. However, public acceptance of autonomous driving will be tightly linked to perceived safety and trust, especially in light of changes such as relinquishing vehicle control and having unconventional in-vehicle seating arrangements (like face-to-face couches).

The EU is funding projects that intend to foster acceptance of autonomous vehicles, such as Trustonomy, DriveToTheFuture and SUaaVE.

SUaaVE involved users in the design process via human-centred design. This approach enables empathic vehicles that understand passengers’ emotions and adapt vehicle features accordingly. It also enhances the in-vehicle user experience and boosts acceptance.

A human-machine interface with empathy

Emotion recognition in automotive research is focused on improving the driving experience and driver behaviour. In connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), it can help systems provide personalised support and corrective actions that increase people’s acceptance.

SUaaVE monitored passengers’ emotional state with wearable devices (future systems could rely on in-vehicle cameras) and used the outcomes to develop a model that predicts emotional state from physiological data. The model was integrated into the AI of ALFRED (an acronym for ‘automation level four+ reliable empathic driver’) to create SUaaVE’s very human-like human-machine interface (HMI).

“The emotion recognition model enables the HMI and other comfort systems to use the passenger’s emotional and cognitive states in real time to personalise and improve the driving experience. It also supports passenger-aligned decision-making involving ethical considerations, such as what to do when an animal runs in front of the car,” explains José Solaz, director of mobility and smart cities at project coordinating entity the Institute of Biomechanics in Valencia, Spain.

Virtual human-centred design

SUaaVE created a virtual driving simulator, a virtual human-centred design (V-HCD) platform, to evaluate the trust and acceptance of various vehicle technologies and behaviours in numerous scenarios. “The V-HCD platform simulates a human-CAV interaction not only from the in-vehicle point of view (the passenger’s) but also from the other road users’ point of view, either as drivers of conventional cars or as pedestrians or cyclists,” Solaz adds.

Outcomes informed design strategies to enhance the experience of future passengers, including senior citizens, teens and people with disabilities. The V-HCD platform will help explore new concepts and how to best engage with and educate the public.

Increasing acceptance of CAVs

Insights derived from SUaaVE research led to the formulation of strategies for potential CAV users (drivers and non-drivers) and other road users (cyclists and pedestrians) that should enhance acceptance of CAVs and of ALFRED. For example, experiencing CAVs generally increases perceived safety and trust. However, although a first experience in a complex traffic environment increases potential users’ perception of pleasure, high speeds should be avoided. Further, potential CAV users and cyclists accept more environmentally friendly vehicles more readily, and this should be included in marketing.

Interestingly, insights showed that an even more human-like ALFRED would increase the perception of status and environmental sustainability and bolster trust in the vehicle’s technology, especially among people with a strong need for control. Finally, different user groups have different needs and this should be taken into account.

SUaaVE outcomes will help European automotive designers better integrate the human factor via a human-centred design approach, enhancing public acceptability and European leadership in a market set for tremendous growth globally.

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Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator: Spain
Project participants:
Total cost
€ 3 894 782
EU Contribution
€ 3 894 782
Project duration

See also

More information about project SUaaVE

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