Drive by design

How cognitive psychology can change the speedometer

Stina Jonsson
Aug 9, 2014 · 3 min read

Could what we know about the brain’s weakness help us design a better driver experience? The future of the car UI is surely going to go through massive changes as we are able to utilise real-time data more readily, not to mention the transition to more self driving modes. In breaking some of the old paradigms, can our knowledge of the human mind and its tendencies to missbehave.

Anchoring bias

A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations and affect our memory, reasoning and decision-making. It can lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation that might be considered irrational from someone outside the situation. A long list of biases have been discovered and studied within cognitive science, social psychology and behavioural economics. One such example is the anchoring bias which describes the tendency of people to rely too much on the first piece of information offered. The first piece of information acting like an ‘anchor’. Once an anchor is set, other decisions and judgments are made in relation to the first piece of information. An example from wikipedia “the initial price offered for a used car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiations, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable even if they are still higher than what the car is really worth.”

A new speedometer

Could we use the anchoring bias to rethink the speedometer? Today, ‘zero km/h’ serves as the strongest anchor in the speedometer. It has also traditionally been the only anchor represented on the speedometer. Another anchor is of course the current speed limit. With this piece of information primarily stored in the driver’s memory with occasional road signs as reminders. Some modern speedometers are able to pull in data about the current speed limit and indicate that on the speedometer with a little marker. What if we removed the zero as a reference and focused on the current speed limit?

Below is an exploration of how a non-circular speedometer, keeping the current speed limit as a reference point, might look. As can be seen in the animation, if the driver drives below the speed limit, a green field is revealed and when driver drives faster than the speed limit, the colour red signals that the driver is driving too fast. Not showing in the graphic below is, if the speed limit were to change, the scale on the left would scroll up or down to reflect the new limit, thereby setting a new anchor. I’d be interesting to test what impact on speeding behaviour such an approach might have, if any.

One of the many unanswered questions is whether the scale on the left should be fix and always show 10 km/h above and below or whether a dynamic scale always showing a set percentage (e.g. 10%) deviation from the speed limit is more appropriate.

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