2019

Waymo
Pedestrian Communication

Experience Design
Interaction Design

A communication system that helps pedestrians feel recognized and understood when they encounter Waymo's driverless vehicles.

Credits

Team & Role

Zach Vono
Collin Oshea
Mitchel Moss

I worked as part of a multidisciplinary team that consisted of a copywriter, art director and experience designer. We were tasked with building trust with an emerging technology and we focused on autonomous vehicles during the transition period before mass adoption. Our final deliverables were a campaign and a minimum viable product for pedestrian communication. I was responsible for user research, prototyping, and testing of the minimum viable product.

Waymo began as Google's self-driving car project in 2009. Their goal is to make it safe and easy for passangers to get around but have they considered everyone on the road?

When pedestrians encounter vehicles, they expect a signal from the driver to see if they should walk or wait. If the driver sees them and wants to let them walk, they let them know by smiling, making eye contact or giving a wave. When drivers are removed from the vehicle, it's the vehicle's responsibility to communicate with pedestrians.

Right now, there are hundreds of Waymo vehicles driving around California and Arizona without a means to communicate with pedestrians.

'Waymo One' is the pilot program for the company's commercial ride-hailing service. Some of the most popular trips taken by early riders are places are to work, school, and the supermarket. These are all places that are crowded with pedestrians.

Unmarked crosswalks, suburbs, and rural environments present higher risks for pedestrian safety.

Solution

Pedestrian Communication System

The communication system lets pedestrians know when they are seen and when it's safe to cross the road. It uses familiar symbols to avoid language barriers.

Product Demonstration (No Audio)

How it Works

The ICS only activates when a pedestrian intends to cross the road or a biker is on either side of the vehicle. It adds transparency to how Waymo's vehicles think and behave, making them more predictable so pedestrians know what to expect.

Features

1) 'Walk' and 'Do Not Walk' Symbols for Pedestrians
2) Light Bars for Bikers

Design Guidelines

Glanceable
  • Communicate the information clearly and without distractions
  • Always display the vehicle's current information
  • Place signals near the front windshield to maximize scan-ability


Actionable
  • Anticipate the user’s needs by displaying timely and relevant information
  • Use background time to update fetch new data and refresh the display
  • Clarity, not clever.


Responsive
  • Interactions with the self-driving car should be quick
  • Respond to pedestrian interactions with immediate feedback
  • Minimize the time it takes to launch and load new signals

Opportunity

Waymo needs to communicate with pedestrians so they feel recognized and understood. Their success relies on expanding its self-driving service to new states. Reducing uncertainty in the public eye will help state officials see the value in bringing Waymo's vehicles to their cities rather than the risk they pose.

Resources

Self-driving cars already recognize pedestrians. They need to relay that information outside the vehicle to communicate with everyone on the road.

Research & Considerations

Familiar Interactions

Autonomous vehicles are unconventional. They need to build trust through incremental change. Communicating in a familiar language will help eliminate ambiguity and prevent deadlock at crosswalks and intersections.

Pedestrians need to feel recognized and understood in order to take the appropriate action when they encounter Waymo's vehicles. Prioritizing effective communication over expressive communication helps ensure that the vehicle reaches this objective.

Pedestrian Centric

After spending time at intersections and speaking with pedestrians, I wanted to dive deeper. My goal was to understand the moment of meaning between perception and action. It felt crucial since pedestrian communication impacts both the safety of the public and the perception of Waymo's brand. My next step was researching the factors in pedestrian decision making to understand the different variables at play when pedestrians encounter Waymo vehicles.

Factors in Pedestrian Decision Making

Empathy Map

After user interviews and researching factors in pedestrian decision making, I constructed an empathy map to create a shared understanding of what pedestrians experience at crosswalks and intersections. I was able to identify the user needs based off of the most frequent patterns within the data.

Flow Diagram

Next, I created a flow diagram that adds pedestrian communication to the vehicle's current functionality. Pedestrian communication consists of outward messages about what the vehicle sees and intends to do.

Prototyping

Research Goal

Determine the most effective way for driverless cars to communicate with pedestrians.

Hypothesis

If the ICS uses a combination of symbols and colors, then pedestrians will know when it is safe to cross the road

Approach

I prototyped two versions of the ICS in After Effects and tested them in a survey by animating an existing image of a Waymo vehicle at an intersection. The first set used only color while the second set used color and symbols.

First Prototype
Findings and Iteration

The results varied but it was clear that a form of context was missing for the first prototype. A little over 50% of the respondents thought read meant they were safe to walk and green meant the vehicle was about to go.

What Worked

The colors from the traffic signal offer a form of direction and placing the system near the driver windshield indicated that it was for pedestrians.

Moving Forward

Add the pedestrian walk signal (without the orange warning color) to the equation.

Second Prototype

Key Takeaways

Over 90% of the respondents understood what the vehicle was trying to communicate. Self-driving cars should communicate with pedestrians by using a combination of symbols and established traffic colors.

Conclusion

Setting the Stage for the Driverless Future

Waymo's success relies on expanding their self-driving service to new states. Reducing uncertainty in the public eye will help state officials see the value in bringing Waymo's vehicles to their city rather than the risk they pose.

Pedestrian's expectations are needs.

Waymo can earn trust on the road by communicating in a familiar language. By prioritizing the pedestrian's understanding, Waymo will earn the trust of the public.

Speed-to-Market: Retrofitting the Lidar

Going back to the vehicle manufacturer is time intensive and too high of a cost. With their vehicles already on public roads, Waymo needs a system that doesn't hinder the progress they've made.

Mounting the intent communication system (ICS) towards the top of the vehicle increases visibility for pedestrians when there are adjacent vehicles. It is mounted at the base of the LIDAR to avoid blocking any sensors and ensure that it is legible from either side of the street.