autonomous vehicles

Autonomous Individuals in Autonomous Vehicles: The Multiple Autonomies of Self-Driving Cars

ERIK STAYTON Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley & Massachusetts Institute of Technology MELISSA CEFKIN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley JINGYI ZHANG Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley We take the polysemy at the heart of autonomy as our focus, and explore how changing notions of autonomy are experienced and expressed by users of self-driving cars. Drawing from work-practice studies and sociomaterial approaches to understanding technologies, we discuss how driving as a task is destabilized and reconfigured by the introduction of increasingly automated systems for vehicle control. We report on the findings of a hybrid ethnographic experiment performed at Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley, in which we video recorded interactions of 14 participants inside a simulated autonomous vehicle, and conducted semi-structured post-interviews. We look at the responses of our participants in light of three different themes of autonomy, which emerged through the analysis of the...

Keynote Address: Pedestrian Perspectives

MELISSA CEFKIN Nissan Research An anthropologist with a long career at the intersection of social research and business and technology, Melissa Cefkin began working on autonomous vehicles in 2015, fulfilling a life-long love of transportation matters. (Her preferred activity in a new place? Public bus rides.) She works at Nissan Research, where she is a Principal Scientist and Senior Manager. Her work has focused on people’s lives and experiences with automated technology of all kinds, especially those related to mobility, collaboration, work, and lives in organizations. A long-time observer and participant in the growth of anthropological research in and with business, Melissa is the author of numerous publications including the edited volume Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter. She has served as president and conference co-chair for EPIC and recently on the US National Academies of Science committee on Information Technology, Automation and the Workforce. A frequent public and academic speaker, the work she...

Speculating about Autonomous Futures: Is This Ethnographic?

by MELISSA CEFKIN & ERIK STAYTON, Nissan Research Center As researchers working on automated vehicles, we are grappling with fundamental questions about how to do research and design for the future. Or, to be more precise, how can we tap into and participate in futures that are in the process of being made, that may both reproduce and rearrange experiences of today? One of the questions we must ask is, what is autonomy to begin with? In the era of the rise of increasingly self-acting machines, what exactly will these machines be autonomous from? How are people grappling with shifting perceptions and experiences of autonomy? Our research has explored how people confront ideas about what the future may hold and, more profoundly, how reconfigurations of socio-technical systems today confront them in their own notions of autonomy. Our paper about one of our research projects on this topic was accepted for EPIC2017, but not without some interesting debate. Anonymous peer reviewers raised a question about whether the work we...

Developing Socially Acceptable Autonomous Vehicles

ERIK VINKHUYZEN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley MELISSA CEFKIN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley Case Study—Recognizing that the movement of cars on the road involves inherently social action, Nissan hired a team of social scientists to lead research for the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs) that engage with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other cars in a socially acceptable manner. We are expected to provide results that can be implemented into algorithms, resulting in a challenge to our social science perspective: How do we translate what are observably social practices into implementable algorithms when road use practices are so often contingent on the particulars of a situation, and these situations defy easy categorization and generalization? This case study explores how our cross-disciplinary engagements have proceeded. A particular challenge for our efforts is the limitations of the technology in making observational distinctions that socially acceptable driving necessitates. We also illustrate...

Auto Ethnography

by FIONA MOORE, Royal Holloway, University of London “Where is Hassan?” I asked the assembled team of programmers. “And please don’t tell me he’s on the track, running with the automobiles?” Rose tossed her blonde hair and rolled her eyes like the sorority girl she otherwise completely failed to resemble. “OK, but that’s only because he’s down in the garage in his sleeping bag, recharging with the automobiles.” “You really should do something about that, Professor Leibowitz.” That’s Ruth, incisive and sharp, perched on the edge of her wire-frame office chair, chin resting on her hand, fixing me with her birdlike eyes. “Why should he?” Ay shifted his slightly-too-tall frame. “We’re in completely uncharted territory here with these cars. I say, if unorthodox methods work, then use them.” “Mind elaborating, Atticus?” I said, just to see the tension manifest in a tiny quirk at the corner of his mouth. No, he couldn’t help what his parents named him, but I could never quite resist...

Autonomous Vehicle Study Builds Bridges between Industry and Academia

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...

Ethnographic Study Lifts the Hood on what REALLY Goes On inside that Car

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...