BRIGITTE JORDAN Nissan Research Center, Silicon Valley CHRISTINA WASSON University of North Texas Researchers have long explored the desirability and benefits of industry-university collaborations and acknowledge they can be fraught with difficulties. We examine one such alliance, focused on driverless cars, a current hot topic in the public imagination and in technology design. Our collaboration began as an alliance between two anthropologists, one a professor at the University of North Texas, the other a consultant with the Nissan Research Center in Sunnyvale, California. We designed a research project for a design anthropology course that Christina Wasson taught in Fall 2014. Brigitte Jordan, at the time, was conducting an informal ethnography class for engineers and computer scientists at NRC. Our alliance had two objectives: to determine what a successful industry-university collaboration could look like when it involves ethnographic research in the high-tech sector, and to provide insights into usable ethnographic methods and...
by BRIGITTE JORDAN (Nissan Research Center - Silicon Valley), CHRISTINA WASSON (University of North Texas), and HEATHER S. ROTH-LOBO (University of North Texas) Driverless cars—the term, the fantasy, promises a pinnacle of automotive engineering that takes the human entirely out of the picture. But the closer the technology comes to reality, the more obvious it becomes that “driverless” doesn’t mean “people-less.” The automotive industry needs answers to questions that are fundamentally human and understanding of issues that are fundamentally social. We need to understand the social life of the car. No stranger to Silicon Valley hi-tech labs, Gitti’s charge at Nissan was to establish ethnography and design anthropology as foundational components of research that would underlie all aspects of the human-centered design that was the Lab’s purpose and ambition. The goal was to provide a path for thinking outside (and inside) of the technology box to generate actionable and inspirational techno-social insights. As she...
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