How Will Humans Respond to Breaking in Self-driving Cars?

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【Summary】The results of the report showed that passengers moved an average of eight inches forward during a breaking maneuver, even though they were wearing a seat belt.

  Michael Cheng  ·  Aug 08, 2017 1:30 PM PT
author: Michael Cheng   

Sudden, abrupt breaking is easy to anticipate when you're driving. One's reaction carefully adjusts to changes in movement and decrease in speed. But for passengers, such driving maneuvers are difficult to adapt to, since most aren't fixated on the road.

This is a problem for driverless cars because in the future, we will all be passengers. To make trips more comfortable, systems must know if the ride is making people sick in the car.

"We bring people in from the community and slam on the brakes, record the acceleration and how (the people) respond to that hard braking event," said Matthew Reed, a research professor who also heads the biosciences group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Anticipating the Driving Maneuver

University of Michigan researchers are aiming to uncover how unexpected breaking affects passengers in autonomous vehicles. Earlier this year, over 80 individuals participated in a trial at the Mcity driverless vehicle test site on the North Campus. The pilot program focused on automatic breaking protocols.

During the study, individuals were asked to sit inside a car. As the vehicle moved, researchers applied breaking without telling the passenger. The results showed that people moved an average of eight inches forward, even though they were wearing a seat belt.

The project is being backed by Toyota's Collaborative Safety Research Center in Ann Arbor. Leveraging the automaker's transportation research fund, other driverless car projects that are currently ongoing at the hub includes the testing of a medical condition detection system for cars and technology for measuring interaction between robots and humans.

Emergency Breaking Applications

The results of the pilot program are very relevant to the development of self-driving platforms. Automatic breaking will be an integral part of autonomous driving. Because of this, automakers may need to create a mechanism to soften the impact of breaking for smooth rides. Another option would be to setup a warning system inside the vehicle to alert passengers about the driving maneuver. The main issue with this solution is that the notification could be distracting for individuals inside the car.

Moreover, researchers are testing a unique coping feature for self-driving cars that adjusts the tightness of seat belts, depending on existing road conditions and the status of the vehicle. When cruising, the seatbelt stays loose; but when the car approaches a traffic light (for example), the safety component becomes taut. This feature could work for slow breaking maneuvers, as passengers would have time to adjust to the change in restrain.  

V2V or V2I should be incorporated into solutions to this concern. A driverless car with access to the city network could have more time to warn passengers about obstruction on the road and future breaking maneuvers.

"Autonomous and connected vehicle technologies are only just beginning to transform the transportation landscape. By working together with world-renowned institutions and making our results public, we are proud to help realize the promise of advanced mobility solutions and a safe, convenient transportation future," explained Chuck Gulash, director of the Toyota Center.

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