Our experts planned the testing project with the City of Espoo and the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority. The focus was on the user interface. We started with a definition of the virtual model and planned the course of the interview day. The target groups were made up of elderly people with physical and sensory impairments and people with strollers.
We developed the components of the virtual tour in workshops, focusing on the different decision-making points of the trip and the related accessibility issues. At these points, the passenger observes the visual information and listens to the audio information (signs, stops and their surroundings, other people, a bus and its interior, etc.) and based on these, the passenger gets on or off the bus. During a bus trip, there are several decision-making points which interpretation varies for different groups of people depending on the sensory state of each passenger, their ease of movement, their habits in using public transport, and several other factors. In the workshops, we ended up compiling the selected decision-making locations into a virtual model to be tested by the target group.
Virtual travel experience for the test group
Accessibility is especially important for the elderly with limited physical and sensory abilities, but also for people in wheelchairs. Respondents' preconceptions about robot driven buses ranged from skeptical and uncertain to excited about using them in the future.
The interviewees got on a virtual trip in a robot driven bus in Otaniemi's urban centre virtual model, to make the experience as authentic as possible. Afterwards, we had an in-depth interview with them and learned about their experience. On the “journey,” they got off the bus, got on it, and left for the station. They were able to change their viewing angle with the mouse. Otherwise, the trip was predetermined and similar for everyone. Users moved from one step to another by using the automatic camera.
The bus stop was designed according to the accessibility guidelines. We developed the stop information board and it was considered good. We included the clear voice guidance in the virtual model and it was an essential element for the target group. It supported the guidance and provided reassurance to users.
Respondents said that the acceptance of the robot driven bus was a matter of habit, which was encouraging. Compared to current buses, the robot driven bus was considered too small: there was not enough room for a guide dog, a stroller or a wheelchair. Similarly, the interior of the robot driven bus was seen as lacking items that help or give comfort with travelling. The grip handles and handrails were important to the test group, as they need help to get on and off the bus.
The interviews revealed suspicious and frightening incidents. There is no driver to deal with the situation if an elderly person falls or is injured while on the bus. In this case, immediate assistance and intervention from the remote-control room are required. The space for a guide dog must also be taken into account so that the dog won’t be tramped.
The information signs were considered adequate and informative. The terminal station didn’t evoke much emotion to the interviewees. This may be explained by the fact that the journey was coming to an end and there were no special actions to observe at the station.
The use of the virtual model in testing added a lot of value. During the interviews, we got several good ideas for its further development.