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.