Weeks 12 and 13: Progress Report

Oh the ice. The ice is everywhere. And it's unlike anything you've ever seen. The ice has a character of its own, not unlike a bond villain, deceitful and quintessentially evil. Most people I know have fallen a few times already – including me rather awkwardly just outside the region's hospital. I guess what frustrates me most is that seemingly nothing is being done about it. I distinctly remember the public outrage back in Switzerland when some paths were a little slippery and unsalted in the early mornings. Well, I see people putting out grit every day, but I do wonder where it all goes. Evil tongues say that the ice is the reason this is the city with the youngest population in the whole of Sweden.

Even the large Ume river has frozen. One morning large ice shards came floating down the driver from the north.

Even the large Ume river has frozen. One morning large ice shards came floating down the driver from the north.

On a more positive note, it's Glögg season! Glögg a hot mildly alcoholic beverage not unlike mulled wine. People that have been to Ikea surely know what I am talking about. And there is a great abundance of Glögg up here and that's all the better. As temperatures have started to hover regularly around -10° it is probably the primary reason why people still leave their homes.

During our 'Trucks of Tomorrow' project I've still been sticking to my favourite hot beverages: tea and coffee. Normality returned following the excitement of last weeks interviewing. To recapitulate the two main insights from that interview: firstly, the truckers job is more complicated than just driving around than what we expected it to be and involves a huge amount of skill. Secondly, the trucker showed a great sense of pride in being precise, in being on time, reliable and fuel-efficient. Our first deliverable had been to write a reformulated design brief in which we decided to focus on platooning within our highway driving scenario. Platooning is when trucks form a convoy with minimal vehicle-to-vehicle separation. There are multiple benefits to this, not least the fuel savings that arise. Given that we are focussing on highly automated trucks, there are also safety and leisure benefits for the truck drivers themselves. We then decided to focus on platooning because we see both a high value for automation in trucks and an interesting tension between the truck drivers' values and the system’s efficiency. This led to a second research phase in which we acquainted ourselves with that topic. Particularly interesting were the various approaches to platooning taken by Scania and its competitors. We drew further inspiration from various automated driving support systems in development at most automotive companies.

Me thinking about what to include in our trucker's user journey. This meeting room really offers a fantastic view of the river bed.

Me thinking about what to include in our trucker's user journey. This meeting room really offers a fantastic view of the river bed.

It became clear to us that for automated platooning to be adopted by the truck driver it needs to respect the driver’s fundamental values. To determine these values and to determine what characteristics truck drivers share, we created a set of behavioural variables based on the findings of our contextual inquiry. The other teams then added their input to allow us to compare the characteristics of 6 different truck drivers. This contextual inquiry made us realise that there is no archetypical trucker. We also found that most of our interviewees described the concept of “Freedom” in their job that they liked. The data that we managed to collect let us then build a realistic truck driver persona. To understand what situation our persona faces throughout a workday in 2030 we created a user journey. With our user journey we visualised the context, touch-points and both the users and systems actions at during each important event. This gave us seven relevant scenarios to work with.

Kalliroi and me sketching early interface ideas during a time boxed brainstorming session.

Kalliroi and me sketching early interface ideas during a time boxed brainstorming session.

Given these situations, we then needed to decide on how both the trucks’ automation systems and the platooning would work. Given the changes in truck drivers' role within the context of automated platooning system, we decided to call him truck operator. We decided on having each truck manned with an operator, but will expand on this later on to allow for fully automated trucks as well. We also identified three types of user interactions: operator to truck; operator to platoon and operator to environment. A brainstorming session then revealed possible design solutions for each scenario. 

To be able to decide on interactions that match truck operators expectations we decided to put ourselves in the situation and act out each interaction (bodystorming). We used simple props made out of elements we could find around school. This gave us the following two main insights: Firstly, it became obvious how important the human communication between truck drivers is. This finding is backed up by our user research. Secondly, there was an explicit need to see each other's actions. We therefore decided on defining the lead platooner’s role aspirational and full of responsibility. 

We then moved forward to storyboarding our design solutions through storytelling. We picked the two most important scenarios to start with: joining a platoon and exiting a platoon. We separated and came up with four different storyboards that each conveyed different design interventions. Using these results we discussed the advantages and shortcomings of each intervention and summarized what worked for each. Collectively, we then scripted our story and produced a low-fi version of the storyboards for both main scenarios. This forced us to think about all interfaces involved and forced us come up with preliminary sketches for the interfaces. We then focussed on detailing the storyboards and thereby the in-truck interfaces. 

To illustrate what we were all talking about I bought some model cars from the local toyshop. They really proved valuable, as explaining traffic situation is both difficult and annoying.

To illustrate what we were all talking about I bought some model cars from the local toyshop. They really proved valuable, as explaining traffic situation is both difficult and annoying.

One of the difficulties that automated systems have is the danger of modal errors. This occurs when the users of a system aren’t aware in which mode they are in. This means that both the active mode needs to be evident at all times and mode changes need to be performed with explicit action. This is why we chose to use the automatic gearshift for operators to engage in automated mode. Although we have found no evidence that the concept of a gearshift is no longer relevant in 2030, we believe that interaction works very well for mode selection. 

The primary output will happen on the trucks windshield though an advanced heads up display. These types of displays have significant safety benefits associated with heads up displays. They make sure that the relevant information is directly in the drivers view and minimize eye movement. This is how truck operators will receive information on the functioning of their trucks, their surroundings and their involvement in the platoon. In our preliminary wireframes this is specifically the state of the platoon mode, distances to other vehicles, information regarding other truck operators and their destinations. It also shows navigational information and makes the truck operators aware of potentially dangerous situations ahead. 

Our first revision of our 'Joining a Platoon' storyboard. Well done to Emily, who did most of the illustrations herself.

Our first revision of our 'Joining a Platoon' storyboard. Well done to Emily, who did most of the illustrations herself.

Given that when trucks are platooning, most of their field of vision is severely limited by the back of the truck driving in front, we can make use of this dead space for our heads-up display information (see screens in storyboard). Additionally, we will use both ambient displays and sound feedback. We envision the usage of different elements in the drivers' cabin that can subtly change colour to indicate the difference in the automation status. This has the benefit that we can reduce the clutter displayed on the heads up display. Audio feedback can be utilized to help operators understand the necessity to address their attention to the system interface. 

And then the snow arrived. I vaguely remember people telling me that things would be less slippery. Nay! Doesn't keep people from cycling, though.

And then the snow arrived. I vaguely remember people telling me that things would be less slippery. Nay! Doesn't keep people from cycling, though.

Another difficulty is that users might not understand the scope of automation and how it functions, this could have the implications that users are too confident in the automations capabilities. We are investigating if we can show more details on how the automation is functioning and explicitly slowing down the automation operation so that the operators can understand them. 

So that's about where we currently stand in that project. Next week will bring the mid-review where we get to present our work in front of representatives from Scania.

The huge Gammlia Christmas market was a sight to behold. Temperatures of -14° didn't keep us there long.

The huge Gammlia Christmas market was a sight to behold. Temperatures of -14° didn't keep us there long.

We spent some time strolling through the picturesque Gammlia Christmas market last weekend. Fitting that now it'll only be a few days until I return to Zürich for the Christmas break. A break that I am in dire need of, having participated in the IxDA student design challenge and still in progress of wrapping up our CHI student challenge entry.

Okay by now you must be thinking: "this guy really likes sunsets". Well, there's just not much you can do about it when daylight basically means a four-hour continuous sunrise and sunset.

Okay by now you must be thinking: "this guy really likes sunsets". Well, there's just not much you can do about it when daylight basically means a four-hour continuous sunrise and sunset.