To save lives in future traffic crashes, we need to understand what people will be doing in fully automated vehicles during various types of trips, and shape the restraint systems to protect for the resulting postures. This paper describes how participants of our study in China wished to sit and what they wanted to do as occupants during different trip scenarios, and how they compare to participants in a previous study in Sweden.
Both studies used the “Setting the stage” method to explore these future situations. The “stage” consisted of a space with four chairs, designated as a vehicle. This minimalistic setup has been claimed to stimulate the imagination to a greater extent than more developed designs, because it allowed participants to play a more dynamic role when designing and expressing their expectations of a fully automated vehicle, within the constraints of the trip scenarios posed to them.
The fully automated vehicle was described as a car that doesn’t need to be driven at all; upon entering, the occupant only has to dial in a destination. Three trip scenarios were presented to the participants in China. After each presentation, participants were encouraged to discuss among themselves what they imagined they would do during such a trip, and how they would like to be seated. Participants could redesign the “vehicle” interior as they wished by manipulating the position of the chairs as they were speaking. An observer took notes and photos as participants were discussing.
For a short trip, to or from school or work, participants in China saw themselves seated in a traditional forward-facing, upright position. For weekend rides or longer trips with family, the traditional seating position and a living-room style position with participants facing each other were most commonly mentioned. Participants also suggested a 45- or 90- degree rotated version of the living room position and being able to sleep in a horizontal position. Activities mentioned include relaxing, watching movies and working.
Participants in both China and Sweden expected fully automated vehicles to allow for more varied sitting and more comfortable seats. Reclined seats were frequently mentioned, as were swivel seats. Both groups expected the fully automated vehicle, more than vehicles today, to support activities normally not done when driving. Participants in China also wished to lie down during longer trips. The requests for new sitting positions will require novel restraint systems—for example, new seatbelt concepts (such as belt-in-seat) and new types of airbags—as well as new tools to assess the systems’ safety.