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Education Should Drive Automation

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Oct. 16, 2020—The evolution of technology is unavoidable. With constant new releases of devices and software, innovation is impossible to outrun. But as humans, we don’t have to compete with technology, we have to learn to embrace it. The first step to embracing technology, is to become educated in it—especially on the road. 

One of the newest technologies to make its way into our world and onto our roads is autonomous driving. Advanced Driving Assistance Systems like cruise control and lane change monitoring have become commonplace in newer models, but the complete autonomous overhaul of a vehicle is new, and relatively uncharted territory for most drivers.

At the end of September, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education hosted a panel of professionals who discussed the barriers and hesitations held by the public when it comes to using these advanced systems. 

John Lenneman, senior principal engineer for Toyota North America, says his company conducted research alongside Westat, an employee-owned research corporation, to gain insight into driver types and their behaviors.

Over a three-to-six-month period, Toyota interviewed its participants every two weeks and collected data on driver behavior, sensation seeking tendencies, and locus of control. 

Locus of control, developed by Julian B. Rotter, refers to the degree in which an individual believes that they have control over their lives, as opposed to external forces. 

Lenneman says they were able to identify four driver types that they are confident they can teach to accept and trust the advanced technology. The teachable types include moderate-level learners, skilled learners, expert learners, and those with pre-knowledge of the systems. The fifth and final driver type is the most difficult to teach, named misinformed learners.  

“[Misinformed learners] think that they know the systems and are confident in what they know, but their knowledge is inaccurate,” says Lenneman.  “They don’t want to learn more or use the systems and that is the big challenge in consumer education.” 

Vice President of Behavior Design Change at Mad*Pow, Amy Bucher, specializes in understanding human behavior and finding ways to reach what her company calls “target behavior,” through education. 

“The role of education is to disrupt mental models that are inaccurate,” she says. “How do we present information in a novel way that grabs the attention of consumers and piques their curiosities, where they don’t put up walls?” she poses. 

The answer is customized education. 

“The biggest challenge is trying to come up with solutions for a population with varied capabilities,” says Lenneman. “There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, the future requires customization and personalization.” 

Lenneman says today’s society has both the tools and the data to create custom, personalized approaches for the varied population to accept autonomous vehicles—and it starts with education. 

Autonomous vehicle education could start as early as teenage driver’s education and extend all the way up to the top, having dealerships walk customers through all of their vehicle’s capabilities. 

“It’s not just about educating drivers,” Lenneman says. “We need to educate dealers and service technicians as well.”

Jim Jenness, associate director of Technology and Safety Research at Westat, says dealerships have some responsibility for consumer education, as well as manufacturers. 

“Manufacturers could do more inside the vehicle,” Jenness says. “Even the interface design could make functionality more apparent as well as transparent.” 

As more people become educated in the world of autonomous vehicles, more benefits are added to the systems. Lenneman says one study is not going to solve problems, but a dedicated research program could. 

“Education is not a one time event,” says Bucher. “People are constantly learning as they accommodate new information into their environment.”

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