'Humanising' automated vehicles for safer roads
An EU-funded project is working to ensure that automated vehicles (AVs) can react to daily situations in a safer, more intuitive way. The project's user research will feed into the development of more interactive sensors, which could increase the level of road safety and lead to a competitive European market for AVs.
© Institute of communication and computer systems (ICCS)
EU-funded researchers in the INTERACT project have collected data on how people interact in traffic conditions in Germany, Greece and the UK. The project will now use this information to develop software algorithms and sensors for AVs to help them to better recognise the intentions of other road users and predict their behaviour.
This will ensure feasibility and safety in the situations where road traffic includes simultaneously AVs, manual cars and bikes. INTERACT plans to demonstrate the final results using two vehicle demonstrators.
AVs hold out the promise of increasing safety by limiting the likelihood of human error, reducing congestion through more efficient driving and opening up new sustainable transport methods such as driverless buses.
To capitalise on this potential however, AVs must be able to safely interact and communicate with non-automated road users in a manner that is clearly understood. Present interaction is often limited to, and mostly dominated by, the rational principle of collision avoidance. This results in nonhumanlike behaviour, which is not always predictable by other road users and can be quite frustrating.
“Road traffic will never be fully automated,” notes INTERACT project coordinator Anna Schieben from the German Aerospace Centre. “Think for example of cyclists and pedestrians. AVs will always mix with nonautomated road users and have to deal with all sorts of ambiguous scenarios that occur on the road.”
The three-year INTERACT project, which was launched in 2017, seeks to address this challenge by first studying how human road users interact.
“We use multiple means of implicit cues, such as reducing speed, and explicit communication, such as eye contact, gestures and vehicle signals, to anticipate the intention of the other drivers,” says Schieben. “The exact means of communication may differ slightly across regions and cultures, but they are crucial to ensuring cooperation and understanding between road users.”
Observational studies in the three European countries were completed in December 2017. The project team is now analysing the data to come up with human-human interaction models that can be embedded into AVs. The next stage will be to develop the new software algorithms and sensors and install these in the demonstration vehicles.
A new Cooperation and Communication Planning Unit (CCPU) for example will provide interaction protocols based on the gathered human-human interaction data. This will enable the AV to anticipate and react better to ‘human’ driving.
The project team will also apply a user-centred design process to develop, implement and evaluate novel human-machine interaction elements. These will enable the AV to communicate better with surrounding road users.
“INTERACT will contribute to road safety by improving the awareness of other traffic participants of the AV’s intentions and manoeuvres,” says Schieben.
Another key ambition of the project is to achieve greater societal acceptance of AVs by explaining and showing how these can operate safely in mixed traffic environments. “Raising public awareness and acceptance is vital,” says Schieben. “This is why the evaluation and demonstration of two AV vehicles will be so important.”
The project also hopes to have a positive impact on how future AVs are tested and validated. Prioritising cooperation and safer interaction between an AV, the onboard user, and other road users, could soon become mainstream.
“The INTERACT project will enable its industrial partners to fully exploit project findings, which will increase the potential safety benefits, sales, and ultimately the adoption of AVs,” adds Schieben. “With leading manufacturers on board, we aim to ensure that results are integrated at a fast pace, allowing Europe to remain at the forefront of this type of research.”