Communication Between Humans & Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab

user research, design thinking

As a research assistant in Professor Cliff Nass’ Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab, I worked on several automotive research projects with the REVS Program and the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab.

The Autobiography of the Automobile

Founded in 2011, the REVS Program brings together a variety of academic and professional disciplines to examine human experiences and interactions with the automobile. My research project focused on the emotional connection between a driver and car, and asked a simple, yet excruciatingly difficult, question to answer: What makes the act of driving an enjoyable experience?

The wide range of drivers I interviewed was in interest of discovering extreme users: users who express the same needs you and I as drivers feel, but only more acutely (and are therefore more easily identifiable). So in this case, looking at vintage race car drivers and vintage car collectors provided a unique vantage point from which to understand the needs of a driver. 

The car acts as more than a mode of transportation or entertainment: it is a means to capture history in the form of art and design. After countless hours interviewing and mind mapping, the recurring theme of expendability became increasingly prominent. Tension results from different definitions of expendability, namely the alteration and preservation of vintage cars: Does the responsibility of preserving history, that is maintaing the vehicle in its original state, prevent drivers from experiencing full creative control over the mechanically-alterable driving experience?

   Professor Chris Gerdes driving the 1933 "Eddie Hall" Bentley  | March 2011


Professor Chris Gerdes driving the 1933 "Eddie Hall" Bentley  | March 2011

In addition to conducting several ethnographic interviews, I also helped collect real-time psychophysiological measurements of race car drivers. These measurements were synchronized with both mechanical data from the car and driver interviews to better understand the complex relationship between car and driver. 

This research project culminated in a presentation to Stanford scholars, automotive experts, and car enthusiasts at the REVS symposium, held in April 2011 to publicly unveiling the program at Stanford University.

Autonomous Driving

Through a grant from Volkswagen, I spent the summer of 2010 pondering a seemingly simple question: What would it take for you as a driver to hand over control to an autonomous vehicle? In trying to answer the challenging question of designing a user-centric autonomous vehicle, I first familiarized myself with the driver-car relationship by observing and interviewing many different types of users. I also relied on online forums, such as car blogs, to better understand various “extreme” cases of car enthusiasts.

By establishing a basic context of current driver-car relationship(s) through ethnographic research techniques, it became increasingly clear that each and every driver has a unique relationship with his or her car, but there are clear patterns of user preference and behavior along the demographic lines of car model and make. For example, several case studies on extreme users demonstrate the diverse reactions drivers have in regards to how a car could (and should) operate and communicate with the driver. Hence the need for driver profiles, especially as a means of developing a framework with which to define the key characteristics of the driver-car relationship and thus provide Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Laboratory direction for future research in designing autonomous vehicle interfaces.