The design of a vibrotactile seat for conveying take-over requests in automated driving

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The driver of a conditionally automated car is not required to permanently monitor the outside environment, but needs to take over control whenever the automation issues a “request to intervene” (i.e., take-over request). If the driver misses the take-over request or does not respond in a timely and correct manner, a take-over could result in a safety-critical scenario. Traditionally, warnings in vehicles are conveyed by visual and auditory displays, though recently it has been argued that vibrotactile stimuli could also be a viable approach to present a takeover request to the driver. In this paper, we present a vibrotactile seat designed to convey dynamic vibration patterns to the driver. The seat incorporates 48 vibration motors (eccentric mass rotation) that can be individually controlled. One 6 × 4 matrix, with an average inter-motor distance of approximately 4 cm, is located in the seat back and one in the seat bottom. The DC-voltage to the motors is controlled by three Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) drivers, which in turn are controlled by an Arduino microcontroller. A study with 12 participants was conducted to investigate (1) at which vibration intensity participants find a vibratory stimulus annoying and whether this threshold changes over time, (2) how well participants are able to discriminate vibratory stimuli as a function of spatial separation, and (3) which of six dynamic vibration patterns are regarded as most satisfying. Results showed that participants’ annoyance threshold reduced when they were repeatedly exposed to vibrotactile stimuli. Second, the percentage of correct responses in the two-point discrimination test increased significantly with increasing inter-stimuli distance (i.e., from 4 to 20 cm). Third, participants seemed to be more satisfied when more motors were activated simultaneously (i.e., more spatial overlap). Overall, the results suggest that participants are well able to perceive vibrotractile stimuli in the driver seat. However, the results suggest that repetitive exposure to vibrotactile stimuli may evoke annoyance, a finding that should be taken into account in future designs of vibrotactile displays. Future studies should investigate the possibility to convey complex messages via the vibration seat.