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Autonomous Cars & Kids

Spring 2017 - Indiana University

GOAL:  design accommodations for a

five-year-old child riding in an autonomous vehicle, while focusing on a specific aspect of the experience

 MY ROLE:  research autonomous vehicle features, sketch journey map, create persona, sketch solutions, create and solve for what-if scenarios


It is 2025 and we live in a world where human-driven cars share the streets with autonomous cars. As UX researchers and designers your task to come up with UX considerations for autonomous cars. These cars cater to varied user groups, so to narrow the scope you will be looking at a scenario in which a five-year-old needs to be taken to and from kindergarten. Keep in mind that this is a family car and taking the child to school is only one of the functions/uses of the car. 















Our secondary research focused on future entertainment systems and layouts of autonomous vehicles. 

As autonomous cars become more popular and mainstream, they will become more accepted, and ease paren't concerns regarding safety. It was interesting to see discussion surrounding the presence and absence of steering wheels, and the potential for swivel chairs that face one another in the back. We also explored the idea of an augmented reality experience, inspired by Toyota's Window to the World project.

Our primary research focused on interviewing parents of young children, to understand their concerns of their child's journey to school without them.  

Gina & Grant

2 children: newborn boy and 1 year old girl

2 daughters: 1 year old and 3 year old

Nick & Chelsea


2 children: elementary school age



1 child: 2 year old son




Parent Concerns

  • Appropriate age to ride alone in the car

  • Safety and privacy, both technical and nontechnical

  • Contact with parents

  • Designing for a child’s comfort and entertainment

  • Finding a balance between convenience and the parenting experience

  • Child getting in and out of the car easily/safely

  • Cost vs. actual convenience for the parent

Our second round of interviews was more focused than the first. At this point we had narrowed our focus to the child’s entertainment experience, and were capable of leading parents away from safety-related concerns. We asked questions that pertain to a child’s entertainment both in and outside of the car.


1 child: 2 year old son

2 sons: 2 years old and 4 years old




Parent Concerns

  • Appropriate age to ride alone in the car

  • Physical and interactive elements are essential to children’s development

  • Children like toys, arts and crafts, television, and tablet games

  • Children can only focus on one object for so long

  • The capability of the child to move about the car while it’s in motion could change the experience

  • Young children are often given time limits for using technology

  • Parents usually facilitate the entertainment

  • Kids always ask “are we there yet?”


After gaining insights from talking with parents of young children and our secondary research about autonomous vehicles, we arranged our findings into common themes.

Talking with parents of young children allowed us to group major concerns into common themes. Regardless of safety in the car, parents were most concerned with entertainment, an upset child, and a guaranteed safe drop-off at the school, and many did not even like the prompt. 


We focused on one persona, as the prompt guided us to focus on one child's journey to school. 

"I want to play on the way to school.  I like school, my best friend is Megan.”


Olivia is a bright and chatty five-year-old with a short attention span. She is

easily bored and that gets her into trouble sometimes. She is a happy kid, but

does not like being away from her mother, which makes her nervous to be alone

on her way to school.


On her way to school, alone in an autonomous car

Olivia, five-year-old


- to be entertained

- to take her mind off leaving her mother 

  in the morning

- engaging material

- unsure of what she wants

- quickly changing what she wants 

- mood varies morning to morning


Our first sketches were broad, and covered the child's journey before, during, and after the car ride. 

After parent interviews, we brainstormed ideas to improve upon a child's experience and comfort in the car. These were wide-reaching ideas that covered a tracking and communicating system between the parent and the child, an augmented reality experience game, and an automated car AI system that would respond to the child's needs. Some beginning ideas were out of scope for this project, especially considering time and cost limitations if implemented into a real scenario. 


We were prompted to discuss a series of What- If scenarios based around the scope of our situational focus. One of our potential scenarios became the story in our final design (What if Olivia is indecisive?). Two are outlined here. Note at this point in our process our design also included included some elements that did not fit into the final design proposal. 

What if Olivia starts crying?

What if Olivia is tired?

The following sketch illustrates actions made by the car to soothe Olivia until she reaches school. 

The following sketch illustrates actions made by the car to gradually wake Olivia as she reaches school. 


Our solution for multiple scenarios includes a tablet system attached to the back of a car seat. This assumes that the child's car seat will remain in the back in an autonomous vehicle. The Tablet is attached to the seat by a moveable arm, so the parent and child can adjust the height and distance for maximum comfortability. The tablet has a detachable stylus, the Wand, that the child can use to interact with not only the Tablet screen, but also the car in general, depending on the application being used on the tablet. The car can respond to movements and taps made by the Wand on the car. The applications included on the tablet include options like games, art, music, and videos. Below is an example of the overall flow, as well as the main screen and the drums selection in the music app. 

  • Options for play, length of features set to align with the length of the car ride

  • A cartoon character guide to lead them through the app 

Tablet Features

  • Opportunity to "play" instruments, i.e. the drums

  • Use the Wand to simulate playing the instrument, Tablet and car responds with noise and vibrations

Music App Features

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