Can sound improve the performance of remote operators when driving autonomous vehicles?

Would you step into a taxi without a human driver? Only if you knew it was safe, right? Ictech is part of a super exciting research project called REDO. Together with some of the most innovative companies in Sweden, we have investigated the emerging field of remote operation of autonomous road vehicles. We have looked into the auditory aspects of the human-machine interface to answer the question: Can sound improve the performance of remote operators’ when driving autonomous vehicles? This is what we found out.

What is REDO?

REDO – Remote Driving Operations – is a research project that aims to build knowledge and create opportunities in the emerging field of remote operation of autonomous road vehicles. The main problem REDO addresses is: How can we support deployment of new vehicles that don’t have a driver in the vehicle responsible for controlling it at all times? And so, the goal of the REDO project is to develop the necessary systems for safe remote operation of autonomous road vehicles.

Focus on interaction and human-machine interface

From Ictech, we have had four awesome people participating in REDO: Johan Josefsson, who has been on the steering committee, Pontus Larsson, who has been responsible for the interaction and HMI (human-machine interface) design as well as the methodology for user studies, and Joel Begnert, Johanna Bergfelt Ramos de Souza and Anders Ragnarsson, who have developed the technical platform for user studies. Other innovative companies involved in REDO are VTI, CEVT, NEVS, Einride, Ericsson, KTH, and Voysys.

Remote autonomous vehicle operators.

Remote control of autonomous road vehicles

Remote control is a technology that many believe will be crucial for the development and commercialisation of autonomous road vehicles. Today, autonomous road vehicles cannot yet handle every possible situation that may arise. One way to solve this problem is to remotely assist the vehicle in such situations. Already, remote control is required to obtain permission to drive without a human driver in places like, for example, California.

Design sprints to identify challenges and aid operators

Ictech’s contribution to REDO has been to investigate the human-machine interface between the remote operator and the autonomous vehicle. In the first part of the project, we conducted design sprints to identify key challenges for remote operators. We also developed and designed HMI concepts to aid operators in those situations.

Can sound improve the performance of remote operators when driving autonomous vehicles?

The auditory aspects of HMI

In the latter stages of the project, we focused on the auditory aspects of the human-machine interface. We wanted to investigate how sounds can be used to improve the experience and the performance of remote operators. Therefore we developed a software called LAVA – Layered Augmented Vehicle Audio – that can provide sound feedback to remote operators. We tested the software in a real-world setting together with Einride by mounting multiple microphones on the outside of the vehicle. We then transmitted and presented the sound spatially to the remote operator.

Incorporating propulsion and augmented sounds

In the final phase of the project, we conducted a scientific study to investigate how the auditory interface could be improved. Specifically, we sought to improve the remote operators’ situational awareness, sensation of being present, and perception of vehicle speed through the use of sound.

To achieve this, we incorporated two different types of sounds. The first was propulsion sound; the sound of the vehicle in motion. The other was augmented sound; the sound of the surrounding environment, such as cars, cyclists, and pedestrians.

During the study, remote operators navigated a simulated traffic environment which presented numerous challenges and events. In some cases, the added sounds were on, and the remote operators could hear both the propulsion and the surrounding environment. In other cases, we deactivated the sounds altogether.

Sound effect on remote autonomous vehicle operators.

Did sound make a difference for the remote operators?

When all the testing was done, we made a statistical analysis of the remote operators’ reactions, behaviors, and subjective impressions of the situation. The outcome was unanimous. Results showed that adding sounds to the remote driver interface had a positive impact on the remote operators’ reactions, performance, and subjective impressions of the situation.

First and foremost, the operators drove much safer and smoother with the sounds on. But the sounds also helped them feel more connected to the remote environment and aware of what was going on around them.

In conclusion, sounds do make a difference! Adding different types of sounds to the remote driver interface of autonomous road vehicles can bring great benefits in terms of safety. We also believe that this technology has the potential for future developments in the field of autonomous road vehicles.

Keep an eye out for our publication

The project is finilized and we are now continuing working with the results. Next up is to publish our findings and present the results at a conference. (Keep an eye out for the announcement!)

In the meantime, there are, however, still a lot of unanswered questions in this field, and we are looking into the possibility of continuing our research in this domain.

As a company that has invested a lot in research and development over the past few years, participating in REDO is truly a milestone for Ictech. Part of our vision is to lead development and create unique technical innovations – and this is a clear step in that direction.

But the most exciting part is being able to contribute to societal development with new innovative mobility and transportation services. That, we think, is super cool.

What do you think? Are self-driving taxis something you cannot wait to try, or are you more skeptical? Let us know by sharing this article on LinkedIn with your thoughts! Don’t forget to tag us with @Ictech!

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