Autonomous vehicles will create new opportunities for drivers to spend their travelling time engaged in other activities, like working or watching a movie. Researchers from Germany explore the pros and cons of using immersive media applications, such as virtual reality, in a simulated “self-driving” vehicle.
By Carolin Wienrich & Kristina Schindler
Autonomous cars have the potential to radically change the behavior of their passengers, especially for those in what we would now call the “driver’s seat”. Passengers will have more time to watch movies, play video games, or work on their next company report or project. Creating an enjoyable driving experience will thus overlap with providing access to an enjoyable media experience. Prof. Dr. Carolin Wienrich, a human-computer interactions specialist and an author of a paper recently published in i-com investigating future driving scenarios, explains that “even though autonomous driving is in the future, research considering these changes has to be conducted now”.
With that in mind, researchers from the University of Würzburg and the Technical University of Berlin explored the experiences of passengers in an autonomous driving scenario whilst they used conventional or futuristic entertainment media. Different media formats (2D vs. 3D films, corresponding to the conventional and futuristic conditions, respectively), as well as different devices (tablet vs. virtual reality headset, again corresponding to the different conditions), were used to assess positive and negative qualities of the overall experience. Passengers watched sequences from the 2016 remake of the film The Jungle Book, and then reported on their experience. Taken together, the results corroborate the assumption that the device rather than the media format makes the essential difference in the experience.
The immersive experience of using the virtual reality headset was rated more positively, with higher scores being given on measures such as hedonic quality, realism and involvement. Virtual reality and other forms of immersive media are technologies that digitally simulate the physical world, enveloping the user’s attention by blocking distractions and disruption from the external world via a head-mounted display on which users watch and listen to the virtual scene. Possible detrimental impacts of this type of media, such as discomfort caused by the headset or symptoms of “simulator sickness”, were also assessed but could not be confirmed within the scope of this research.
Overall, the data revealed some positive results, including support for the promising new entertainment opportunities provided by immersive media applications. Concerns, mainly with regard to the health of users, warrant further investigation. Finally, the authors emphasize the importance of understanding the inevitable changes to drivers’ and passengers’ experiences brought by “self-driving” vehicles.
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The article is part of a Special Issue on “User-centered Design for Automated Vehicles: HMIs, User Needs, and Preferences” in the journal i-com.