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Audi “25th Hour” project

New and advanced technological features often start in the upper end of the market where customers are willing to pay more for their cars. Being new technology, the cost is high at the start although it will usually reduce within a few years and then motorists in other segments can also enjoy the technology. For example, electronic stability control systems first appeared in the more expensive models in the mid-1990s but today, you can also find them in models like the latest Kia Rio, an entry-level model.

So it is likely that autonomous technology is offered in cars for sale to the public, it will first be available in expensive models (the technology would already raise the cost) of the more premium brands. If this is the case, then carmakers will need to understand what a premium experience should be like in a self-driving car.

Goodyear tyresAudi is researching this in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO. In the futuristic driving simulator, the experts on human-machine interaction investigate, for example, how the car interior can become a perfect workplace.

The findings help the carmaker to provide every user with a personally optimized automobile interior in the future. This research cooperation is part of the Audi project known as “25th Hour.”

“When cars no longer have a steering wheel, premium mobility can be newly defined. In future, people traveling from A to B will be able to surf the Internet at leisure, play with their children – or do concentrated work,” Melanie Goldmann, Head of Culture and Trends Communication at Audi, predicts. “Together with the experts from the Fraunhofer Institute, we want to find out what is important for making optimal use of time in a self-driving car.”

For the laboratory experiment at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, Audi has built a special driving simulator that reproduces automated driving. It has a variable interior and the steering wheel is absent. Large-scale projections convey the impression of a city drive by night. Via displays, the researchers can introduce digital distractions, the windows can be dimmed, and the colour of the lighting and noise background change.

The focus was on young test persons, the so-called ‘millennials’ who were born after 1980 and are regarded as receptive to self-driving cars. In the experiment, the 30 test persons carried out various tasks requiring concentration – comparable with a work situation in a self-driving car.

As they did this, their brain activity was measured (EEG), as well as reaction times and error quotas, and subjective impressions were noted. The results of the EEG were unambiguous: in an environment without disturbances, the human brain is more relaxed. The windows were dimmed, the light settings optimized, and digital messages were suppressed. Tasks were then solved better and more quickly. The test persons also stated that they were less distracted.

By contrast, a driving situation that was ‘close to reality’ in the robot car made greater demands on the brain: in this case, the participants saw some advertising, received information from social networks, and did not benefit from pleasant lighting settings or dimmed windows.

Today drivers spend an average of about 50 minutes per day at the wheel. In the 25th Hour project, Audi is investigating how this time could be used better in a self-driving automobile. The project is based on the assumption that an intelligent human-machine interface will learn the user’s individual preferences and adapt flexibly. In this way, Audi customers will gain full control of their time – they will be masterful time managers.

In a first step, the project team looked at people in Hamburg, San Francisco, and Tokyo, focusing on two aspects. How is infotainment used in the car today? And what would people like to do with their free time in the car of the future? The results were then discussed with a variety of experts, including psychologists, anthropologists, and urban and mobility planners.

In a second step, the Audi team defined 3 time modes that are conceivable in a self-driving car: quality time, productive time, and time for regeneration. In quality time, people spend their time, in activities with their children or telephoning family and friends. Productive time is when they usually work, while down time sees them they relaxing by reading, surfing the Internet, or watching a film.

“The results show that the task is to find the right balance. In a digital future, there are no limits to what can be imagined. We could offer everything in the car – really overwhelm the user with information,” said Ms Goldmann. “But we want to put people at the centre of attention. The car should become a smart membrane. The right information should reach the user at the right time.”

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[Chips Yap]

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