A Human Factors Perspective on Automated Driving
Automated driving can and will fundamentally change - and improve - road transportation. However, researchers say the role of humans and human-system interaction need to be clearly established before we are promised a smooth ride.
Automated driving technology has the potential to fundamentally change road transportation and improve quality of life. If set on the right track, automated vehicles (AVs) could reduce accidents caused by human errors, increase traffic flow efficiency, increase comfort by allowing the driver to perform alternative tasks, and ensure mobility for all, including old and impaired individuals.
However, along this accelerating evolution of road vehicle automation, human factors researchers have long warned that the mere fact that you can automate does not mean that you should. In an interview with 12 human factors (HF) researchers involved in automated driving research, they stressed that any automated system that removes the human from the driving task, yet requires the human to monitor and supervise the system and regain control where necessary, could be unsafe. Can humans easily and safely switch roles between driver and supervisor?
Looking into the future, most researchers believe that fully autonomous vehicles would only operate at low speeds on dedicated lanes in specific scenarios in the near future. They agreed that human factor challenges need to be resolved prior to the deployment of AVs on public roads. Against this wisdom, industry is in fact close to introducing Level 3 and Level 4 AVs on public roads. A recent study even suggests that the public expects full (level 5) automation in more than 50% of vehicles by around 2030.
Moving forward, it is no longer a question of whether it would be possible to have AVs on public roads, but rather a question of how, when and under what conditions. The fact that the role of human drivers within the automated vehicle is currently not yet clearly established could well be the roadblock to the smooth roll-out of AVs. There is thus the need to ensure synergy between the human driver, vehicle and environment, particularly from a human factors perspective.
One of the key concerns is the expectation that human drivers can remain alert and rapidly regain situational awareness following a request by the automated system, which many perceive as unrealistic. In practice, we need to design a safe and effective way to re-engage a driver who has been relieved from the task of driving, based on an understanding of how people will use the automated functionalities and the required reaction time to regain control. Beside designing effective sensing and control systems, the type and frequency of information that human drivers should be receiving in order to maintain situational awareness are necessary inputs in desiging effective human-machine interfaces in AVs.
In addition, we need to determine how other road users, including people using other transport modes or conventional vehicles, and vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists will interact with AVs. The awareness of human drivers and all road users of the automated systems' capabilities, expected actions, and limitations will go a long way in ensuring a smooth journey for all road users - on AVs or otherwise.
M. Kyriakidis, J. C. F. de Winter, N. Stanton, T. Bellet, B. van Arem, K. Brookhuis, M. H. Martens, K. Bengler, J. Andersson, N. Merat, N. Reed, M. Flament, M. Hagenzieker & R. Happee (2017): A human factors perspective on automated driving, Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, DOI: 10.1080/1463922X.2017.1293187