Envi­ron­men­tal Psy­chol­o­gy: High Accep­tance for Autonomous Car­go Bikes

An elec­tric load bike nav­i­gat­ing autonomous­ly through The Magde­burg city traf­fic is assessed as safe and trust­wor­thy in a series of tests with poten­tial road users in all traf­fic sit­u­a­tions. A major­i­ty of the sub­jects com­bine the top­ic of autonomous dri­ving with pos­i­tive emo­tions and are in favour of the ear­ly intro­duc­tion of autonomous car­go bikes.

These are the results of an envi­ron­men­tal psy­cho­log­i­cal study with­in the frame­work of the research project “AuRa – Flex­i­ble Use of Autonomous Bicy­cle Sys­tems for Logis­tics and Trans­port Tasks”. A team of mechan­i­cal engi­neers, com­put­er sci­en­tists, logis­ti­cians, busi­ness econ­o­mists and envi­ron­men­tal psy­chol­o­gists from the Otto von Guer­icke Uni­ver­si­ty of Magde­burg devel­ops an autonomous elec­tric load wheel that nav­i­gates inde­pen­dent­ly to the user on request. The aim of the sci­en­tists is to real­ize a call-ready readi­ness of autonomous car­go bikes in the state cap­i­tal Magde­burg. “By 2022, with a fleet of 5 e‑bikes, we want to com­ple­ment pub­lic and indi­vid­ual local trans­port in an eco­log­i­cal­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly effec­tive way and to build a pro­to­type bike-shar­ing sys­tem with bicy­cle call func­tion in the vicin­i­ty of the uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus,” explains the project man­ag­er Priv.-Doz. Dr.-Ing. Stephan Schmidt from the Insti­tute of Mobile Sys­tems at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Magdeburg.

Via a smart­phone app, the vehi­cle will be called to any loca­tion and will move back to a cen­tral depot on its own after use. Dri­vers will have vari­able-con­fig­urable attach­ments avail­able to trans­port, for exam­ple, sim­ple loads or trans­port addi­tion­al peo­ple, e.B children.

In a first sur­vey, envi­ron­men­tal psy­chol­o­gists researched the user per­spec­tive and exam­ined the accep­tance of the load bike by road users.
“We inves­ti­gat­ed how peo­ple react when an autonomous bicy­cle dri­ves past them in the city and asked us how the vehi­cle can make it clear to road users what it plans to go next, where it wants to go,” explains Sigrid Salz­er, an indus­tri­al engi­neer and media edu­ca­tor, who is head of the human-tech­nol­o­gy inter­ac­tion subproject.

In two test series, the project team from the field of envi­ron­men­tal psy­chol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Magde­burg vir­tu­al­ly pre­sent­ed the autonomous car­go bike to almost 250 study par­tic­i­pants between the ages of 18 and 81, on the one hand in the Vir­tu­al Devel­op­ment Train­ing Cen­ter (VDTC) of the Fraun­hofer Insti­tute for Fac­to­ry Oper­a­tions and Automa­tion Magde­burg, and on the oth­er hand in a dri­ving sim­u­la­tor of the Fraun­hofer Insti­tute for Tech­no- and Eco­nom­ic Math­e­mat­ics ITWM in Kaiser­slautern. The aim was to assess the impact of the autonomous car­go bike on pedes­tri­ans as well as on motorists.

“In both lab­o­ra­to­ries, the par­tic­i­pants expe­ri­enced the autonomous car­go bike in dif­fer­ent, typ­i­cal traf­fic sit­u­a­tions: for exam­ple, when cross­ing the road, when an obsta­cle had to be bypassed on the foot­path or bicy­cle path, and when park­ing or turn­ing at a major inter­sec­tion. In total, they went through sev­en of these sce­nar­ios,” explains Sigrid Salzer.

It was cru­cial to find out in which design the autonomous car­go bike is con­sid­ered a safe means of trans­port. For this pur­pose, sym­bols on a clear­ly vis­i­ble dis­play and blink­er-like LEDs were var­ied. In addi­tion, peo­ple were observed react­ing to dif­fer­ent speeds of the car­go bike. “The sig­nals of the load wheel were per­ceived as good and help­ful in road traf­fic by the study par­tic­i­pants. It has been shown that a car­go bike that com­mu­ni­cates with its envi­ron­ment with LEDs instead of sym­bols on the dis­play per­forms slight­ly bet­ter,” Sigrid Salz­er sum­ma­rizes the results.

The research team also inves­ti­gat­ed pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive emo­tions that the top­ic of autonomous dri­ving trig­gers in humans. “Over­all, we see a strong to very strong ten­den­cy towards pos­i­tive emo­tions with at the same time pre­dom­i­nant­ly weak to very weak sen­sa­tions of neg­a­tive emo­tions,” says Sigrid Salz­er. “With 71 per­cent in the VDTC and 59 per­cent in the dri­ving sim­u­la­tor, well over half of the test par­tic­i­pants were in favour of using the autonomous car­go bike themselves.”

Pas­sion­ate cyclists or peo­ple who gen­er­al­ly per­ceive cli­mate-dam­ag­ing car traf­fic as a prob­lem are more will­ing to use cli­mate-friend­ly means of trans­port such as an autonomous trans­port wheel, Salz­er said. Con­verse­ly, how­ev­er, it is also clear that the more the pos­i­tive atti­tude towards sus­tain­able mobil­i­ty decreas­es, the high­er the pri­or­i­ty being for automobiles.

In the com­ing months, fur­ther test series will be used to exam­ine user-friend­ly access to the autonomous load wheel. Par­tic­i­pants are still being sought for this pur­pose. Reg­is­tra­tion is pos­si­ble under befragung.aura@ovgu.de. More infor­ma­tion on the project can be https://www.aura.ovgu.de/
The AuRa project is fund­ed by the Min­istry of Land Devel­op­ment and Trans­port on the basis of the prin­ci­ples on the grant­i­ng of grants to pro­mote research, intro­duc­tion and use of intel­li­gent trans­port systems.