Friday, 13 March 2009


I should start out by saying I never meant for this blog to become purely transport related (although that is my main research area); it just so happens that I've picked up on a bunch of driving stories in the media lately that have human-centred issues. Hence this being the third in a row of driving-related posts. I promise I'll get back to wider HCD issues soon!

Anyway, two items have been brought to my attention this week related to the Foot-LITE project that we're working on in the HCDI (which I've already discussed in this blog). One is on the T3 gadget website, looking at the interface in the new Honda Insight which displays how eco-friendly your driving is. In a nutshell, the display changes colour from blue to green as you get better, and it gives you 'leaves' as a reward for driving in a more environmentally friendly manner (not dissimilar to the Ford concept, which can be seen here).

The other one was on the Guardian blog just this week, reporting on an enhanced satnav system ('econav') that gives you extra information on your driving style, such as excessive accelerating or braking, and when to change gear.

Interestingly, these two systems represent different ends of what I'd call an intervention spectrum in terms of vehicle technology. As far as I can tell, the Honda system provides minimal instructional information to the driver about actually how to change their driving, instead using its own on-board systems to maximise economy - even to the point of 'smoothing out' the driver's acceleration. You just get to know how good or bad you're doing. Econav, on the other hand, does nag the driver (in the Guardian reporter's own words), suggesting optimal gear shifts, acceleration, and other factors (it looks like speeding is monitored, for instance). As a bolt-on, then, it can't intervene with your driving, so it gives you a ton of information instead.

I'm not going to go too far out on a limb (with or without green leaves) to say which is better - in fact I think there are pros and cons to each, concerning the level of information given to the driver (have a look at the displays and make your own mind up). What I will say, though, and echoing my previous post on the Foot-LITE project, is that this is definitely a boom area in driving - these two systems are just a sampler of many emerging on the market - and as such deserves more attention from ergonomists and human-centred designers. I can't say how much HCD work has gone behind the products we're already seeing, suffice to say it seems like a bit of a bandwagon and probably some have been rushed out more than others. But this is one thing we can't compromise on: what we're working so hard to get right in the Foot-LITE project is how to give the feedback to the driver in a way that encourages the desired behaviour but doesn't take their attention from the road to the point where it causes a distraction - the really human-centred eco-co-driver. Without giving too much away or being too judgemental on the sorts of devices we've seen so far, I still reckon there's a gap in the market here.

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