I have been trying to write this post since November 1, 2014 but due to some unforeseen reason it was never saved. Sometimes the connection was too pathetic to write a complete post. Once even the computer was dead. All these led to an obscene amount of delay on writing this post. In this blog so far I have concentrated upon the PhD process. What to expect when you start, Literature Reviewing, PhD viva and similar academic things. I though it is only fair at this point to write something about my own research.
My thesis was titled: “An Approach to User Centred Road Design: Blending Distributed Situation Awareness with Self Explaining Roads.” All that psychobabble in simple words mean designing a road which instantly tells you what is going on and what to expect with least mental effort. The first logical question to be asked at this point is, “how can a road tell us this? It is just plain physical road. I should be more attentive while I drive.” Have you ever noticed in your day to day life that certain objects helps you instantly interpret its functions and use it seamlessly? For example, in my parents’ kitchen there are two taps. One is for hot water and the other is for cold. There is no sign on either of them which one is which. So, after a lot of trial and error I have figure out which one is which. And mind you I live in a desert so hot here is VERY HOT WATER. This is an example of poor design of the taps. There is no interaction between the user and taps. Unless you burn yourself there is no way of knowing ‘what is going on’. This is called ‘Situation Awareness’ (SA). The tap, the sink, water and I make a system. For a painless tap usage there needs to be adequate SA in the system. This SA is maintained by SA transaction. So, there is a broken SA transaction between me and the tap hence the burn. Sport enthusiasts can also understand the same thing from the game of cricket.
Now coming back to my thesis. The concept mentioned above is highly applicable in driving and in my case car driving. The road in front of us has plenty of infrastructure features. This information will be overwhelming if it wouldn’t have been the cognitive processes which helps makes sense of the environment. The road itself needs to tell its users what is going on. Is this possible? How can a road be so active? Good news is it is possible. Bad news is this has a number of antagonists. Many still view road accidents as driver’s fault. Many of us are still of the view that if we are not able to use a gadget then it is our fault and reading the manual over and over again is the answer. However, very few realize that it is also the way the gadget is designed which is restricting its ease of use. Similar concept applies to road safety. Road safety is a joint effort of the road system (driver, road design, other road users, vegetation, road markings, etc.). Therefore the fault does not always lie with the driver. Driver error is an indication that something else is wrong in the road system hence, efforts should be directed towards that.
In my thesis I have exploited this idea that road safety is a system’s issue. I have used the theory of ‘Distributed Situation Awareness’ to prove the same empirically. Now my thesis is not only restricted to situation awareness although it is a pivotal element of it. Another very important aspect of my thesis is ‘Self Explaining Roads’ which I will deal with in my next post. I will now close at this note and hope some of you if not all will be eagerly waiting for my next post regarding human factors.