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 passenger. This collection is hosted online to allow for direct feedback from the future users of these yet to be realized mobility services, as to their concerns, what excites, 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?
Future Speculative Mobility
For this project brief, my first at the Royal College of Art (RCA), we were given an open opportunity to speculate about the future of mobility with the goal of building an understanding of the implications of emerging technologies in this area.
We partnered with Moovel Group, a subsidiary of Mercedes Benz. Renowned for their partnerships with cities and transit authorities, they were open minded about the methods of transport we chose to examine, including jets packs and magnetic trains.
One of the most challenging aspects of this project was tackling speculative design as a beginning project. As a group, we were unsure of our footing as we began the Discovery phase, but this created a wonderful opportunity to dive headfirst into researching and building the landscape of mobility services. This investigation into world-building outfitted me well for future projects.
As our first Masters 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.
Our desk research took us multiple directions. We found that autonomous cars are predicted to be on the roads in the not-so-distant future and that the sharing economy for transport is on the rise. 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.
We conducted in-depth interviews with people commuting in London, including taxi drivers and employees who worked at a bike/car sharing businesses to get a better understanding of current mobility problems in order to contemplate future opportunities.
We discovered several insights from our research concerning the important of the role the driver plays inside the car.
Not only does the driver physically direct the car, but sometimes they act as a therapist for their passengers. What would the interaction look like in a car when riding alone? What if the car was shared, and who would have ownership and take car of it?
An AI driver creates different social dynamics in the car. The driver is typically in control of major decisions when traveling. Without a human driver, who will control hand out judgement? Who will adjust the music or temperature? Will each of us have our own AI driver, and will we pay a premium for our preferences?
Safety is a huge concern. When we talked with an 8 year old boy, Yael, he said he would be too afraid to go into a self-driving car without his parents. His parents felt the same. Safety in an autonomous cars becomes exponentially more complex when children are involved. 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?
Overall, 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 address?
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?
As it's impossible to predict exactly which future will become reality, we felt we needed to visualize several. We decided to create a series of videos depicting the possible scenarios that arose as questions in our research. By sharing what these situations could look like, we sensed it could build awareness and start a conversation among our design network and Moovel.
We selected a few scenarios we wanted to highlight, shot videos exploring them, and exhibited our project at the Work in Progress show at the RCA. Below are the final videos we created.
Rather than design a single service solution, we designed a conversation via a web platform to get people thinking about the context of their social interactions when it came to autonomous cars, and not just the technological solutions.
The goal of the website was to get feedback from the community as they have yet had the opportunity to make their voices heard by a mobility industry obsessed with the next tech upgrade.
At the the exhibition we collected more feedback and stories from visitors. Below are some images from the exhibition.
This project showed me that the "why" flowing through the veins of a service proposition is 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 Moovel 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.