How Waymo Cars Create Trust

Two ton robots – and nothing else are autonomous cars – must show certain behaviors that infuse trust in use and take fear away. We don’t want erratic machines around us. A 7-series BMW at an intersection revving the engine? With a human driver we know that an asshole is behind the wheels. But with a driverless car showing such a behavior, we are becoming afraid. Terminator is the first thing coming to our minds.

That’s why autonomous vehicles will probably not only look different – as the Google Koala cars were less ugly but more looking cute and behaved friendly – but they also must behave differently and build their whole experience on trust. Not only for the surrounding but also for passengers.

Ryan Powell, designer at Google, published a blog giving insights into different trust building measures for passengers. The app with which a Waymo One can be ordered shows from the beginning the path that the vehicle will take to pick up the passenger. And that path may not always be the most straight line, as the access to the pickup point may require to stay within traffic laws and be safe.

Even when entering the car passengers are welcomed by some relaxing ambient music as long, until the passengers are ready and press the start button.

The designers had some headaches with the question on how much information to display on the monitors inside the car ffor the passengers. Riders can observe what the car is seeing and where it is going. Not all information is necessary, and the car’s sensors generated quite a bunch of it overlayed on street maps. Here is an example of how the picture for the car and for the passengers looks like. As we can see, the passengers see only the most important information for them, such as the most important objects the car identifies and reacts to.

Also the path is displayed, other cars as blue rectangles and even some buildings.

Occasionally additional elements are displayed. Signal lights and their status, or pedestrian crossings at intersections, as well as speed limits.

In certain cases, for instance the car comes to an abrupt stop, a warning chime is played with information why the car has taken that measure.

The design process focused according to Ryan Powell on all moments where the passenger may look up trying to understand the situation. The right information in the right amount at the right time helps passengers to understand the car’s behavior and learn to trust it.

This article was also published in German.

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