Sunday, September 23, 2007

Automobile in HCI's Future-2

Need for HCI help in auto industry ...

Column written for Interactions. © CACM, 2007. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. It may be redistributed for non-commercial use only, provided this paragraph is included.


"I write this from Driving Assessment 2007, a conference on automobile safety, held this year on the beautiful shores of the Columbia River in the state of Washington. Members of the HCI community would feel comfortable at this conference: issues of design, workload, distraction dominate.

A while ago I wrote a column for Interactions entitled “There’s an automobile in HCI’s future.” This conference reinforces the view: The problems of interface design are ever present in the automobile, but accompanied by new issues, especially that of safety.

New technologies are rapidly entering the automobile. New forms of automation interact with the driver (some don’t even bother to interact but simply take over), controlling speed, braking, lane-keeping, distance from the vehicle ahead, or behind, or to the sides, automatic parking. Automatic instructions, navigation, warnings, and suggestions. There is also an ever-increasing number of third-party add-ons, such as music players, video game players, cell phones, hand-held navigation systems, and computers. All this give rise to the potential for distraction and the danger of objects flying through the air during a collision. All together, there are major implications for safety. The HCI profession is used to dealing with confusion and frustration. Here is a situation where physical injury is involved. As one researcher at the conference commented, “What I really like about this area is that our research saves lives.”

All of our proud, graphically oriented screen devices, especially those with touch-sensitive screens and a paucity of physical controls, may be delightful to use while in a comfortable environment, but they become safety hazards when also attempting to drive a car. If the eyes of the driver are off road for two seconds, studies show a dramatic rise in accident rate. Try selecting a song or a cell contact or programming a street address into a navigation system in less than two seconds: impossible. Moreover, because the driver is attention switching, not only must the eyes shift from road to device, and back again, but all the context must be restored: memory structures, intentions, planned activities. Task switching lengthens the time to do each task considerably, thereby magnifying the danger. So here is a scientific question for which I do not know the answer. Suppose we have n tasks, T1, T2, … Tn. Now suppose we do all simultaneously, switching among them. How long does it take to do n tasks when switching between them? I am sure the answer is task-dependent, but I would not at all be surprised to discover that The time to do n tasks in this manner is between 2 and 10 times the sum of the times required to do the tasks separately, without switching. In other words, if in a pure, pristine laboratory test, someone can change a radio station or dial a phone number in T seconds, while on the road, while timesharing, this same task might take 2T to 10T seconds. Think of the added danger.

But, you may complain, people shouldn’t be programming navigation systems while driving, dialing telephone numbers, changing radio stations, or selecting which piece of music to listen to. Yes, that is logically true, but as usual, we must be guided by people’s real behavior, not by logic."    (Continued via Don Norman's jnd.org)    [Usability Resources]

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