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This is how Waymo plans to standardise the autonomous car interface

Having a uniform interface of interaction can help set a benchmark for how humans will communicate with cars in future.

Autonomous cars are pretty much geared up to take the mainstream stage by storm. With technologies being increasingly refined to make the artificial intelligence safer and easier to operate, pioneers in this field are increasingly focusing on the finer aspects of autonomy in cars. These are the aspects that will make considerable differences for the end-user, and also help fit these vehicles in to promote urban smart cities. One such aspect is the interface for human interaction in autonomous vehicles.

Waymo, the now-independent self-drive experiment division started by Google, is one of the prime companies looking to establish autonomous cars as everyday means of travel, and simultaneously promote ride-sharing as the way forward to tackle congestion in urban cities. One of the latest factors that the company spoke about is the importance and relevance of a commonly assumed human-machine interface of interaction in these cars. The idea is to establish a new set of rules and pathways for the passenger to communicate with the driver, which in the case autonomous cars is the car itself. This aspect is very important to be established and standardised, in order to ease the learning curve for individuals, set a benchmark for carmakers to follow, and make the transition between man and machine as seamless as possible.

A sample of a 'friendly' graphic interface that Waymo is working on

The impact is similar to that of having unified courses of action for any software-driven action. We have long accepted set ways to access certain software - take any computer and mobile operating system, for instance. While each operating system (macOS v. Windows, iOS v. Android) has its own way of operation, the basic premise remains similar for most, and that in turn helps acclimatise individuals easily to a new device. This is even more significant for cars, particularly if we are to promote ride-sharing services in future. While different carmakers will certainly be entitled to making customisations in their own interface, the basic commands and switches need to remain the same. In ride-sharing models, different cars may carry their own software interface, and it would be counter-productive to not have a common language of interaction for cars.

It is this that Waymo is highlighting, and aiming to address. This also aids in the quest to make the AI-driven car appear more humane to human passengers. A big part of having faith in autonomous cars is to build trust for the individuals seated inside, and building the trust can be done when there is an open channel of communication for the passenger to address his worries. For instance, when you are being chauffeured around by your driver, and you suddenly spot a cyclist about to cross the road that your chauffeur may not have spotted yet, you would instinctively speak out to your chauffeur to alert about the incoming obstacle. In case of autonomous cars, the key is to install an interaction method (like a two-way voice interaction system), so that you can still voice your concern out loud, and have the car respond to you, so that you know for sure that the software is indeed working as it should.

Ride share models will make common actions necessary in terms of software

All of this must be presented in a user-friendly format, so that things do not appear too tech-heavy for the non-savvy individual. In such cases, histograms and other radar-like graphic data will do little to infuse confidence. Waymo's present objective is to simplify this interface, and present the information to passengers in a friendly audio-visual format. This, along with the work on establishing key security practices, will help bring autonomous cars much closer to production.

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