Our Future Driver 
A public, interactive initiative exploring the social dynamics of removing the human driver in autonomous vehicles. Client: Move Lab (Mercedes).
Year 1 // 5-Week Project
Team: Tim Worms, Nafeesa Jafferjee, Jieun Lee, Natalia Kritsali
What is it?
Our Future Driver is the beginning of a conversation about our future autonomous mobility experience. It is a collection of video scenarios exploring the interactions between the artificially intelligent driver and human passengers. 
We collected both digital and physical feedback from future users of these yet to be realized mobility services. They discussed their concerns, what excites them, or what confuses them in this space. By engaging in a dialogue now, the user is empowered to shape the services to come.
But, how did this project begin, and how did it get here?
The Story
The Brief
For this project, my first at the Royal College of Art (RCA), we were given an opportunity to speculate about the future of mobility with the goal of building an understanding of the implications of emerging technologies.
We partnered with Move Lab, a subsidiary of Mercedes Benz. Renowned for their partnerships with cities and transit authorities, they were open-minded about our choice of approach.
One of the most challenging aspects of this project was its speculative structure. As working professionals, we were accustomed to tackling problems that felt more immediate or accessible. This created a wonderful opportunity to dive headfirst into innovative research methods and scenario building, which outfitted me well for future projects.
As this was our first project, our roles in the group were fluid. Coming from a visual background, I invested a significant amount of time upfront learning research methodologies from teammates and the recommended texts. I created and managed the project schedule and collected the research data into usable spreadsheets. I also directed the graphic design of the final presentation and shot and produced the video collection.
Building Context
Our initial research found diving into numerous reports and acclimating to the language of self-driving vehicles. 
According to Deloitte, the next 25 years are going to be transformative for personal mobility. We found that autonomous cars are already on the road and that the transport sharing economy is on the rise. 
We also found that companies, engineers, and designers are primarily focused on building the technical requirements necessary to create functioning driverless cars, such as navigation and artificial intelligence (AI) systems, peer-to-peer vehicle communications, and advanced LIDAR sensors. 
To understand the current urban mobility experience, we conducted in-depth interviews with people commuting in London, including taxi drivers. We also spoke with employees at a bike and car sharing businesses to get a better understanding of larger trends.
As our perspective widened, we noticed more hesitance about new technology from families with children, no matter the culture.
A Prototype Experience
Stepping back from the technology, we began to wonder: What are the implications of removing the human driver? Does the AI driver stay in the car? How would it handle a dispute among passengers? What if there's a crash?
So, we setup an experimental prototype to map the emotional and rational journeys people experience while in a car without a human driver.
Our prototype consisted of a taking a small car and creating a divider that masked the driver from the subject in the passenger seat. We recorded video and captured still images throughout.
When then proceeded to drive around the borough of Kensington and asked the subjects to vocalize their thoughts. 
"As a passenger, I always check what the driver is doing, like checking if a car is coming. I don’t know what’s going to come next."
"What do I do now? Do I read a book? It's really boring without having someone to talk to, to be honest."
"At one point a person was opening their car door and I felt the car speeding up, and I had no idea why."
An example of the prototype in motion. This is footage captured during setup as recordings of actual participants were kept confidential. A set of questions were asked at the end to establish a baseline experience.
What is going on?
We discovered several insights from our research concerning the importance of staying informed in a vehicle. Without a human driver, there were many common indicators missing from the driving experience that kept the passengers in the loop and away from worrying. This included turn signals, reasoning for acceleration, and navigating unforeseen obstacles. 
The common refrain we heard from participants during our prototype was, "I don't know what's happening."
Safety was another concern. We spoke with an 8-year-old, who said, "I would be too afraid to go into a car without my mom and dad." His parents felt the same.
While safety is already a primary concern to auto-manufacturers and regulators, it is largely determined by technical decisions. However, the safety in autonomous cars becomes exponentially more complex when children or other extreme users.
Should the AI driver have parental controls for the car? What happens if a car is hacked? How will an AI driver react when something goes wrong? How will it recognize and treat passengers without bias? 
Social Dynamics
Without a human driver in the car, we also found that there was more missing than information. Not only does the driver direct the car, but sometimes they act as a mediator, guide, or therapist for their passengers.
An AI driver creates different social dynamics in the car. Traditionally, the driver is typically in control of major decisions, both rational and irrational. While an AI driver can address rational needs, they are unable to account for the irrational needs or handle disputes among passengers. A human driver represents a socially-accepted arbiter, which is comforting to human passengers.
Questions we were prompted to consider from the research: What would the interaction look like in a car when riding alone? What if the car was shared; who would handle repairs or care for it? Will each of us have our own AI driver, and will we pay a premium for our preferences?
Overall, we came to the conclusion that travel is messy. Things don't always go according to plan. At the end of our research, we had more questions than answers. How could we design the best AI driver when there were so many social situations we needed to account for and predict?
One of the in-progress concepts we presented during interim reviews. In this concept, I aimed to bridge a trust gap between users and the autonomous vehicle by establishing a local neighborhood network that the users had control over.
As it's impossible to predict exactly which future will become reality, we felt it wouldn't make sense to develop an entire service around a mere possibility. 
Instead, we leveraged our prototype and the experimental journeys our riders experienced. As well, we utilized several voices from our prior interviews. We decided to visualize several of these potential scenarios. 
By sharing what these situations could look like, we sensed it could build awareness and start a conversation among our networks and the Mercedes team.
We selected a few scenarios to highlight and created videos exploring them in greater detail.
Our final video that was displayed at the RCA Work In Progress show. Subtitles were included for people with auditory challenges.
Designing a Conversation
Rather than design a single service solution, we designed an online platform to host a conversation to think about the future social interactions in autonomous cars. 
The goal of the platform was to get feedback from the community as it finally began to engage with the technology. We wanted to give weight to their voices, which often were overlooked by an industry focused on the solving technology problems.
We also realized that the conversation had to extend beyond the digital realm. We utilized the opportunity of the Work in Progress show at the RCA, in which we were exhibited. There, we collected more feedback and stories from visitors. We introduced them to the platform and had them post their experiences and thoughts on a nearby window. This sparked numerous conversations throughout the 3 days of the exhibition.
"The UBER driver felt like my personal psychologist. :("
"I can see the sights, but driving the road is fun."
"I recently used DriveNow and I got locked inside the car. Car wouldn't start. Doors wouldn't open. Alarm was going off!"
Images from the RCA Work in Progress show. The display space was small, so we made sure to make it visually engaging and interactive.
This project showed me that the "why" flowing through the veins of a service proposition is sometimes more important than the "how." At the beginning of the term, I was worried about how I did service design and how I could or should use the tools. 
I was unable to make that transition until one of the heads at Move Lab sat down at our table and challenged us to produce a video in two days. He argued that as long as we could connect people to our idea through the narrative, it was irrelevant how polished it looked.
Utopia vs. Dystopia
Repeatedly we ran against a wall that many companies do: the desire to only show perfection. But, through our research we realized that every cutting edge technology setting out to improve lives comes tangled with unconsidered side effects. Designing a perfect service solution is unrealistic and causes the audience or potential users to question the truthfulness of your message.
When speculating about the future, crafting a believable world or framework is key to achieving connection with the audience. I found I could leverage my interest in technology, science fiction, and other literature to help apply service tools such as a PESTLE analysis to enable this sort of discussion. It is only in this space we could converse about the consequences of replacing the human touch altogether.

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