Positive user experience: Continental Psychologists Conduct User-Centric Research with the “Wizard of Oz”

Top Quote Continental puts people in the center of each product development. User experience is deciding factor in product development. Research with psychologists, virtual reality technology and “Wizard of Oz” vehicles. End Quote
  • (1888PressRelease) April 05, 2023 - The auto industry is going through the biggest upheaval since the invention of the automobile. Digitization, networking, semi-autonomous driving functions and, above all, the rapidly changing user behavior of people require new mobility concepts. The automobile is becoming the much-cited “smartphone on wheels.” In the future, highly automated vehicles will offer the occupants more space for relaxation and entertainment and serve as a partner who interacts via intelligent language assistance, 3D displays, and innovative functions. A positive user experience (UX) is essential for the success of new vehicles today. This means that the development of new automobiles is becoming increasingly complex.

    "A major challenge is to anticipate what people will want, need and expect from communication, entertainment content and mobility solutions in five to ten years and beyond," explains Guido Meier-Arendt, Human Machine Interface (HMI) Principal Expert at Continental. “To do this, we must rethink mobility. For example, we will increasingly offer cloud-based services in the future. The automobile becomes part of a mobility network in which different road users communicate seamlessly with each other. This creates a holistic and safe mobility experience.”

    Continental follows a user-centered development approach: the needs of people are at the center of all technological developments. While that sounds obvious, it is an extremely complex task. "The first step in every development is to understand the user and their context," says Guido Meier-Arendt. "The crux of the matter is that needs and expectations depend both on the current situation and on enduring user characteristics."
    “As a technology company, we have to find out what people really need – even if they may not be able to articulate this themselves. In addition to systematically involving the user in technology development, we also apply approaches to HMI vision development," explains Meier-Arendt. Future studies, current usage trends – such as popular consumer electronics and video gaming – as well as a wide range of cultural, sociological and demographic factors are analyzed and taken into account. This gives the Continental experts an initial idea of which solutions will make mobile life safer, more convenient and more efficient in the future.

    Psychologists are crucial for a positive user experience
    In order to not only develop this strategy, but also adapt it in the daily development of real-world applications, Continental employs engineers, IT experts, specialists for artificial intelligence and big data in its research and development centers around the world, as well as media, graphic designers and traffic psychologists to best understand future user needs.

    An expert on user behavior is Sebastian Weiss, a psychologist who specializes in human factors research. Weiss studied psychology in the master's program "Human Performance in Socio-Technical Systems" and is a sought-after specialist in engineering and traffic psychology. For Continental, he traces the needs of people and the users of tomorrow and translates that into recommendations for future technology solutions. However, it is not feasible to directly ask all users about their mobility wishes and needs; therefore Weiss and his team have an extensive portfolio of psychological communication processes and high-tech laboratory equipment at their disposal.

    In the virtual reality laboratory, subjects test innovations in simulated traffic worlds. There is even a converted premium limousine which offers a 180-degree view from a real cockpit of virtual road situations that are shown on large monitors in front of the demonstrator. "We accompany new developments, especially for human-machine interfaces, from the first concept phase until just before they are ready for series production," explains Weiss. "The decisive factor here is always to see people at the center of all considerations and experiments."

    In every phase of development, users test the new technologies and undergo extensive interviews. Continental’s HMI team seeks to create user experiences that are intuitive, understandable, efficient, and increase safety. Above all is the question: Do people have confidence in the technology?

    "Trust is a crucial factor," says Continental HMI expert Meier-Arendt. “The more vehicles that are highly automated and will also operate fully autonomously in the future, the more important it is for users to trust the technology. One of the greatest challenges in modern automotive engineering is to develop concepts and solutions that give people the feeling: You are safe here; you can rely on the technology one hundred percent.”

    Autonomous test drives in the “Wizard of Oz” vehicle
    How does a technology have to be designed so that people can trust it? In order to receive realistic feedback on the effect of new products, the developers at Continental, in cooperation with the in-house psychologists, use so-called “Wizard of Oz” vehicles. Test subjects are told that they are driving an autonomously steering car – although behind a curtain on the passenger seat is a Continental engineer steering the car via right-hand drive. The behavior of users was tested and recorded with a deceptively real-looking autonomous drive. Test subjects were instructed to make phone calls, type text messages, eat and drink, and even turn to the back seat. An artificially intelligent algorithm was trained to generate a suitable response from the intelligent monitoring and HMI system for every user status in the cockpit. For example, if the user’s head was turned backwards, the seat vibrated to draw attention to a warning display. Alternatively, audio warning signals were played. Afterwards, in intensive psychological interviews, it was determined which situation and which feedback the test subjects feel safest and most comfortable with.
    In another experiment, the interaction of pedestrians and cyclists with autonomously driving cars and delivery robots was tested. For this, Weiss and his team equipped the test subjects with virtual reality glasses. In artificial but realistic street scenes, virtual vehicles were equipped with various warning light systems. Sometimes warning lights shone green or red on the hood, sometimes lights were attached around the body of the vehicle. "Protecting vulnerable road users is central to Continental's development work," said Weiss. “But we can only see whether a proposed solution works in tests with real people – in the safe environment of a virtual world, of course. How do people interact with autonomously driving vehicles? Which signals encourage people to cross the street, which ones to stop, which ones might confuse them? Does only the pedestrian detected by the autonomous system move, or does the cyclist hidden by the truck in the adjacent lane also feel addressed? Can statements about autonomous cars also be applied to other mobility solutions such as delivery robots? These are the questions we seek to answer with our technology solutions.”

  • FB Icon Twitter Icon In-Icon
Contact Information