Virtual reality Experiment to study the Role of social Conformity in the acceptance of Autonomous vehicles

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering

Abstract

Context. Many governments worldwide are introducing new plans to promote and anticipate the recent rapid development of automation. In this international scenario, the UK is playing a leading role. As stated by John Hayes MP "The UK is increasingly seen as one of the best places in the world for connected and autonomous vehicles" (Cohen et al., 2017). The economic and societal benefits of autonomous vehicles are foreseen to be enormous (up to Euros 17tn to GDP). But, these benefits could be jeopardised if users fail to adopt the technology. The recent scoping study (Cohen et al., 2017) commissioned by the Department for Transport, clearly highlights that "it is impossible to say whether full automation will happen (ostensibly a technical question) without asking at the same time whether there would be a substantial consumer interest in purchasing/using such products and whether widespread deployment would be societally acceptable. Hence, almost all useful questions about AVs have at least a social or behavioural component."

In response to this urgent need, the project aims to take advantage of virtual reality technologies, which have made significant progress in the last decade in computer games, to use them in a scientific context to understand and then model users' acceptance of Fully Autonomous Vehicles (FAVs). The project aims to understand what are the conditions under which citizens will accept to move (live, work etc.) in an urban environment where traffic will include FAVs or it will be formed only of FAVs and use them as a public transport system.

In order to achieve the research overall aim, the project set the following specific objectives:
- Understand to which extent the acceptance of FAVS is affected by how much familiar we can get with this highly technological and innovative product and by what other people around us (people we know but also people that we do not know) think about and how they behave with respect to FAVs.
- Develop a new method for studying acceptance of innovative products, which includes a method to collect the information from customers and a method to analyse this data that can be used then to take policy and industrial decisions that affect every day citizens' life.
- Test the benefit of the experiment created to be used across the population to help people (in particular specific categories like older people) to live in and adapt to the forthcoming new technological urban environments.

Potential applications and benefits.
This research will add extensive value to the critical discussions about adoption and diffusion of FAVs and about the policy incentives that should be given to foster the market. The results from this research will have Social, Economic, Industrial and Academic impacts. The results from this research will allow the quantification of the economic and societal benefits of FAVs with the important potential benefit of reducing the risks associated with the current huge investments that governments (in the UK and worldwide) are currently making on AVs deployment. These results from this project will also guide local and national governments to develop policies that can facilitate the sustainable, rapid, and least-disruptive growth of these technologies and services, investing public money in a more cost-effective way. The usability of Virtual Reality environment to social contexts will open opportunities for new applications. The application of the VR environment created can potentially be extended to study cases of autism where VR experiments have already proved to provide significant benefits.

Planned Impact

The research proposed is highly interdisciplinary. The theories and the methodology developed in this research, as well as the results obtained will be useful far beyond the specific context of application of autonomous vehicles or the broader transport field. As described in the section Academic beneficiaries, this research will be of interest for researchers in an ample spectrum of fields (behavioural analysis, economics, psychology, demand modelling, data collection) and diverse contexts of application (education, social exclusion, environment, urban planning, safety, food, health, agriculture, energy, video game, etc.).

The results obtained from this research will impact the following groups:

- Policy makers at national level. The results from this research will, for the first time, allow the quantification of the economic and societal benefits of FAVs, based on the rigorous estimation of the user's adoption of FAVs. This will reduce the risks associated with the current huge investments that governments (in the UK and worldwide) are currently making on AVs deployment. These results will affect policy decisions surrounding the cost of technical development, the creation of product trials, and the deployment of informational campaigns targeted to specific categories of users who may be less prone to accept autonomous vehicles.

- Municipalities and urban planner. For example, the results from this project will guide about the type of road designs or specific signals to be provided that facilitate the acceptance of autonomous vehicles on the streets from the users' perspective. Results will provide a systematic understanding of the behavioural and societal effects of forthcoming transportation innovations, to allow municipalities to develop policies that can facilitate the sustainable, rapid, and least-disruptive growth of these technologies and services.

- Local communities. They can use the research developed in this project and the VR platform created and freely shared as training tool to help the population (in particular specific categories like older people) to live in and adapt to the forthcoming new technological urban environments.

- Private businesses. They can use the new development of VR environments to develop new commercial projects for example on the innovative interaction between transport technology and social aspects.

- Car manufacturers, who will be informed about how customers respond to new technologies allowing customization of their products according to user input.

Publications

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Title VR pilot data 
Description The project started less than one year ago, at the moment we have collected pilot data to test the use of VR to collect data on the acceptance of automated vehicle 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact I have been invited to present the research I am doing at two international workshops. One was at the Transportation Research Board Conference in January 2020 in Washington, Another one is the Large Scale Autonomy: Connectivity and Mobility Networks workshop that will take place in November at the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) on the UCLA campus. I have also a paper accepted to the International Survey Method Conference that will be held in June in Portugal. The paper is by Hao Yin & Elisabetta Cherchi and the title is "Conducting Stated Choice Experiments within a Virtual Reality environment: an application to the choice of automated taxi." 
 
Title VR software for choice of automated taxi 
Description we built a VR software where respondents can interact with automated vehicles circulating in a "real" street and select a taxi that can be a normal one with driver or an automated taxi. The street is "real" in the sense that we reproduce in the VR environment a street that exists and where there is currently a taxi rank for normal taxi 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact at the moment there is no notable impacts, except the invitation to workshops to present this software to the international community