Designing Multimodal Warning Signals for Cyclists of the Future

University essay from Luleå tekniska universitet/Institutionen för ekonomi, teknik och samhälle

Abstract: Traffic is a complex environment in which many actors take part; several new technologies bring promises of reducing this complexity. However, cyclists—a particularly vulnerable road user group—have so far been somewhat put aside in these new developments, among them being Cooperative Intelligent Traffic Systems (C-ITS) and their aspects of human–computer interaction. This master’s thesis of industrial design engineering presents five multimodal collision warning signals for cyclists—future ones in these supposed C-ITS—using a novel application of bone conduction headphones (BCH) via sensations of both sound and touch. The thesis project was conducted as a complementary subset of the larger research project ‘V2Cyclist’ orchestrated by RISE Interactive. V2Cyclist set out to adapt the wireless V2X-protocol for cyclists by developing a physical prototype in the form of a bicycle helmet and corresponding human–computer interface. A significant part of the theoretical framework for this thesis was multiple resource theory: tasks in a different modality can be performed more effectively than in one already taxed attentively. Literature on human factors was also applied, particularly with regards to the perception of sound; evidence suggests that humans evolved a perceptual bias for threatening and ‘looming’ sounds that appear to encroach our peripersonal space; ethological findings point toward the association with low-frequency sounds to largeness. Sound design techniques usually applied to more artistic ends, such as synthesis and mixing, were repurposed for the novel, audiotactile context of this thesis. The thesis process was rooted in design thinking and consisted of four stages: context immersion, ideation, concept development, and lastly evaluation; converging and diverging the novel design space of using BCH in an audiotactile, i.e. bimodal way. The divergent approach generated a wide range of ideas. The later convergent approach did not result in one, definite design as further evaluation is required but also due to unknowns in terms of future hardware and network constraints. Given the plurality and diversity of cyclists, it may well follow that there is no optimal collision warning design in the singular. Hence, a range of five different solutions is presented. Each of the five multimodal collision warnings presents a different approach to conveying a sense of danger and urgency. Some warning signals are static in type, while others are more dynamic. Given the presumed rarity of collision warnings, multiple design techniques and rationales were applied separately, as well as in combination, to create different warning stimuli that signaled high urgency in an intuitive way. Namely, the use of: conventions in design and culture; explicitness in the form of speech; visceral appeal via threatening and animalistic timbres; dynamic and procedurally generated feedback; multimodal salience; crossmodal evocation of ‘roughness;’ size-sound symbolism to imply largeness; and innately activating characteristics of looming sounds.

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