Design illustration courtesy of Faurecia.

Design illustration courtesy of Faurecia.

Automotive supplier Faurecia is teaming with Stanford University to study potential behavioral changes in autonomous vehicle occupants and explore how technology and design can improve their travel experience.

Headquartered in France, Faurecia has operations in 34 countries. The company’s North American headquarters are in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Faurecia is already working with Stanford University’s Center for Design Research to identify ways to improve occupant confidence in autonomous vehicle technology and to allay potential apprehensions.

"In partnering with Faurecia, we are taking the industry's first steps toward anticipating and averting problems that autonomous car drivers may encounter in their transition from active controllers to multi-tasking occupants of vehicles," explained David Sirkin of the Stanford Center for Design Research. "While the industry often considers the new technologies required to keep autonomous cars safely on course, these physiological issues will require their own approaches to vehicle design and engineering."

Research suggests that advanced driver assistance system warnings can help keep drivers aware of what the vehicle is doing and help instill confidence – as long as those alert interfaces aren’t overly complicated. Such warnings are also critical to help keep the driver alert and prepared for a needed transfer of vehicle control.

“Providing information in new ways that easily attract attention and effectively increase the driver’s situation awareness must be explored,” Faurecia said.

Researchers are also exploring new vehicle interior designs that better lend themselves to driver reading, socializing and working while the vehicle is driving itself. Prevention of motion sickness is another topic of concern.

According to Faurecia, these and other considerations will take an increasingly important role in the future development of autonomous transportation, with more attention placed on what's happening inside the vehicle.                     

“As the automotive industry continues its march toward autonomous vehicles, most of its efforts have been focused on creating the technology that will enable auto-pilot functionality,” said Rob Huber, vice president of innovation for Faurecia. “While this is an essential foundation, Faurecia is prioritizing a parallel development track focused on how we enhance the mobility experience by improving life-on-board, making comfort, customization and connectivity a priority.” 

At the Connected Car Expo in Los Angeles, Faurecia discussed potential technology approaches to autonomous vehicle interior systems. The company also demonstrated Active Wellness, a seating system developed to improve the comfort and well being of vehicle occupants.

Active Wellness can detect a driver’s stress levels and other physical responses by measuring heart and breathing patterns through sensors integrated into the seat. Based on these measurements, the system can initiate countermeasures – for example, employing a specific massage therapy or increasing seating ventilation – to improve the driver’s comfort level. Ultimately, Active Wellness may reduce stress among connected or autonomous car occupants, according to Faurecia.

“Active Wellness is one of the ways Faurecia is already pursuing new functionalities and designs in seating and interiors to address emerging issues related to driving connected/autonomous vehicles,” Huber said.