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Automotive Connected Vehicle (IoT)

Launching IoT MVP

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Role
Senior Product Designer
Client
Panasonic
Date
2018-2019
Tools & Frameworks
Sketch, Axure RP, Adobe CC, InVision, ArcGIS, React

Project overview

Problem

United States roadways are becoming increasingly more congested and dangerous. As more cars hit the road and travel times increase, the risk of accidents rises and the traffic problem worsens.

Objective

To take the project from '0-1' by designing an MVP that uses connected vehicle data for real-time insights, aimed at reducing congestion and enhancing public safety in a new B2G market.

Outcome

Successfully demoed to major state transportation department in seven months, kickstarting significant team and product growth within the Panasonic business unit.

Users

Targeting State Department of Transportation (DOT) traffic operators, along with technical hardware installers and maintenance personnel.

Team role

Led the V2X data ecosystem design as the Senior Product Designer within a startup team of 8-12, comprising engineers and transportation experts.

Duration

9 months

Disclaimer In adherence to non-disclosure agreements, this project selectively presents designs and strategies with some purposeful obscurity, prioritizing confidentiality of proprietary information. The following content is my own perspective and does not necessarily reflect the views of Panasonic.

I.

Tackling Transportation Challenges with V2X Technology

In 2018, the stark reality in the U.S. was hard to ignore: 38,000 lives lost to traffic accidents and drivers wasting 97 hours yearly in congestion. This crisis, costing individuals roughly $1,350 each, sprang from deteriorating infrastructure, increasing traffic volumes, and outdated systems.

Enter V2X Technology

  • Empowering Traffic Operators: With V2X, traffic operators gain the ability to quickly process and act on crucial roadway insights.
  • Transforming Road Interactions: for every road user.
  • Revolutionizes road safety by enabling real-time insights for traffic operators.

V2X technology stands as a transformative solution, making roads safer and smarter.

II.

Navigating big data in V2X design

Cars today are more than just vehicles; they're data hubs on wheels, equipped with sensors and connectivity for V2X technology. This technology transforms vehicle data into precise, meaningful roadway insights. Basic Safety Messages (BSMs), when combined with other data types, provide real-time snapshots of road conditions, such as imminent congestion indicated by frequent hard braking, or icy roads detected through environmental sensors and driver actions.

However, the challenge was managing the massive influx of data, received every 100 milliseconds from each vehicle. My focus was on ensuring scale management, prioritizing data speed and integrity, while maintaining design simplicity. This approach was crucial to make these large data sets actionable and intuitive for quick understanding.

Big Data Challenges

  • Volume: Handling the massive data influx from BSMs, generated every 100ms.
  • Scale and Performance: Ensuring the system's scalability and performance under such data load.
  • Design Simplicity: Maintaining user-friendly simplicity amidst complex data sets.

Challenge

Throughout our R&D process, continuous discovery and refinement were key. Balancing the known pain points of traffic operators with the practical needs of RSU Installers shaped many design decisions. For operators, this meant I needed to focus on creating solutions that enable faster incident response and streamlined traffic data analysis. For RSU Installers, ease of installation and adaptability to changing standards were prioritized.

Solution

Traffic operators, vital in managing traffic conditions and emergency responses, use their expertise in data analysis and traffic system management to mitigate traffic issues. Key pain points were:

  • Delayed Incident Management: Traffic operators often encounter delays in detecting and responding to road incidents.
  • Challenges in Traffic Flow Optimization: Accessing and analyzing traffic data in real-time is difficult.
  • Complex Tool Integration: Navigating and integrating multiple traffic management systems can be cumbersome.

III.

Understanding our users

We leveraged insights from our team of industry experts, gaining a foundational understanding crucial for our early R&D stages. This internal expertise helped shape our approach to the V2X system design.

Traffic operator focus

Traffic operators, vital in managing traffic conditions and emergency responses, use their expertise in data analysis and traffic system management to mitigate traffic issues. Key pain points were:

  • Delayed Incident Management: Traffic operators often encounter delays in detecting and responding to road incidents.
  • Challenges in Traffic Flow Optimization: Accessing and analyzing traffic data in real-time is difficult.
  • Complex Tool Integration: Navigating and integrating multiple traffic management systems can be cumbersome.

Role of RSU installers

In order to use V2X technology, DOTs needed to deploy and maintain the roadside hardware (RSUs) which enabled the vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. This is where RSU Installers were essential to install the framework needed. Pain points for them were:

  • Time-Intensive Installation: The process of installing and configuring a single RSU is lengthy and complex.
  • Tedious Maintenance: Routine maintenance and updates are difficult and time-consuming.
  • Non-Existing V2X Standards: Universal V2X communication standards don't exist, complicating installation and maintenance processes.

User takeaways

Throughout our R&D process, continuous discovery and refinement were key. Balancing the known pain points of traffic operators with the practical needs of RSU Installers shaped many design decisions. For operators, this meant I needed to focus on creating solutions that enable faster incident response and streamlined traffic data analysis. For RSU Installers, ease of installation and adaptability to changing standards were prioritized.

III.

Product solutions & approaches

The two user groups really didn't share any specific jobs, or key tasks, that could be accomplished with one product. RSU installation was typically done by third-party contractors, or other roles, that wouldn't be touching the V2X data. Therefore, two separate products emerged to solve the respective problems.

  1. RSU Onboarder - product used by RSU installers to onboard, manage, and update the hardware used to ingest V2X data into the cloud.
  2. Traffic Management - a V2X data ecosystem, for desktop and workstations, which would be used by DOT traffic operators to understand roadway insights from aggregated V2X data.

IV.

V2X Traffic Management

In approaching the cloud application, the goal was to surface new, valuable insights to DOT traffic operators that they didn't have access to before. It currently takes above 15 minutes to confidently understand a roadway incident and take action. With faster insights and a higher degree of confidence in understanding roadway conditions, they are able to take appropriate action faster - leading the congestion and safety goal.

By using a systems thinking approach in collaboration with the whole team, my plan way to understand all of the complexities of the entire system and distill them down into only the necessary information needed to gain insights quickly.

What could V2X do?

Lots of R&D was still being done to figure out how exactly we could get certain types of data, along with ‘how fast’ and ‘in what form’? First I had to deeply understand how this whole thing worked. Only then was I able to start contributing to the ideation process alongside other industry experts on the team.

I
What data can the RSUs themselves tell us?
What if accident detection triggers the nearest camera feeds?
What kind of timeline could an accident show? What if we could see how V2X data changed over time?

Visual exploration

Once we had a general concept to work with, I started imagining some visual aesthetics and themes. The map had to be front-and-center. But, other relevant data and insights had to be able to be layered on or quickly referenced.

One challenge here was simply imagining the complexity of the scale of vehicles and roadway events. Because of this, I wanted to keep the interface as simple as possible. I also wanted a map theme that focused purely on roadways with clear contrast.

I
Light themed UI, dark themed map
Dark themed UI, light themed map
Light themed UI, full color map
Dark themed UI, full color map

Focusing on V2X-added value

The goal was to focus only on elements were of potential added value to a traffic operator, not overwhelm them with all data we CAN receive.

Map layer toggles and event tabs are the main ways to quickly find events as they happen and gain contextual awareness of the situation. Sliding event history, and action, panels provide progressive disclore to useful roadway insights 'under the hood,' without leaving the page.

I
Dark UI and light themed map - simplifity and clarity without any extra distractions
New layout - event toggle and alerts moved to secondary top nav

Giving meaning to RSUs

Initially it was really not close how to visual RSUs. As iterations were done, they starting to gain more context. Early iterations began rough and literal. This then changed into variations where the filled circle color, and stroke array, actually meant something about how well the RSU is performing. Adding stroke array with the color change made them nice and ADA compliant for color blindness.

I
Plan ol' dots were the starting point
This made demonstrations simple to explain, but didn't scale well or provide real context.
The filled circle, with simple ring felt distinct enough with better scalability.
ADA compliant (color blindness) and scalable with added context

Looking forward

As the design for the traffic management product took shape, more technical use cases begin to emerge, based around the operations and maintainance of a V2X RSU deployment. While some of these use cases did not fit our traffic operator uses, it opened up new directions to explore for others.

I
With RSU health showing, maybe we can offer health alerts
Maybe similar design patterns from traffic management can be used to manage RSUs

V.

Connecting vehicles and infrastructure

Designing the cloud application was one piece to the V2X puzzle in creating a larger V2X data ecosystem. The DOT operators, and other roles, would be using V2X data in a vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) data path. But, what is happening out on the roadways? What other data paths of vehicle-to-everything could be useful for our safety and congestion goal?

Roadway drivers also needed a way to consume, and take action on, V2X insights. Since the data is two-way, it can also go back out to the roadways into V2X-enabled vehicles. This can show drivers important messages in real-time as conditions around them change.

Finally, to connect everything together, the roadside units need to be deployed for all of these pieces to even work. RSU installers needed ways of bringing RSUs online in order to create the roadway infrastructure for the V2X system to operate.

VI.

RSU Onboarder design strategy

In order for V2X data to be transmitted both from vehicles-to-infrastructure (V2I) and from infrastructure-to-vehicles (I2V) many road side units need to be installed and onboarded into a roadway system.

For problem for the RSU installers was that it could take a few hours to both install and then properly configure a single RSU device. Our goal was to drastically reduce the time it took for the installers to configure and onboard an RSU device into a given roadway deployment.

To do this I used more of a systems-thinking approach. Without standardized industry processes and manufacturer specifications, we needed to start with the entire picture and work downwards.

System flowcharts

I worked closely our internal technical operations and V2X experts to understand the complexities and potential user paths, then aimed to create the simplest workflows with the least amount of steps. With a complex, multi-layered process that involves lots of people and technologies that work together, the flowchart resembled more of a service design blueprint.

*For privacy reasons, the image shown is an AI render to represent what one of the flowcharts looked like

Designing for field work

Since the typical working environment for the RSU installers was outside on the roadways in the middle of the day with traffic distractions, the workflow and interface needed to focus on large visual elements, plenty of spacing, and clear step-by-step screens with progress visualized. It should be clear what needs to happen in each step and why. If it can be an automated process it should be clear that a process happening.

I

Visual designs

Contrast, spacing, and typography readability was the focus in creating the interface. A light-themed color palette works best for daytime readability, especially when outside. Compared to the command line interface they would otherwise be using, the goal was to give RSU installers a clear, streamlined interface to work with, ultimately decreasing time to configure the roadside hardware.

I
Condensed single screen
Hover tile to reveal controls

Delightful touchpoints in system checks

Connecting many steps in the onboarding user workflows were moments of back-end system checking and validation. The time for completing these checks was not known, but was estimated to be between 5 and 20 seconds - even longer in some cases. Therefore, I used an indeterminate progress modal. I used this common, and potentially frustrating, touchpoint as an opportunity to add a little delight to the experience.

VIII.

Bringing it all together

With all of these components, we were able to holistically illustrate our product vision in an emerging connected vehicle market space. We conducted product demonstrations at an onsite Network Operations Center with four V2X-equipped vehicles, each with a unique driver persona.

Through various stages of the demonstration, we showcased distinct V2X use cases, revealing how our product provided unparalleled real-time roadway insights. These dynamic demonstrations effectively communicated our vision to major OEMs, state departments of transportation, and potential collaborators.

I

IV.

Conclusion & Impact

The success of launching Cirrus by Panasonic product was based on our ability to demonstrate a working product which provided new value in the connected vehicle space, along with a clear product vision which can ultimately reduce congestion and improve safety.

Seven months into my journey with the team, we broke new ground in October 2017. After an initial pilot program, Panasonic solidified plans with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for the nation's first statewide intelligent transportation program. Alongside CDOT and other strategic partners, our collective aim was to alleviate traffic congestion and elevate roadway safety, with a particular focus on I-70, one of the most challenging corridors in the nation.

The initial design groundwork was a solid starting point and one of many aspects of the entire team's launch success. However, this was just the beginning of the product design aspirations.

Next Steps

  1. Create a user research function for foundational insights and understanding.
  2. Develop a more formalized iterative process that works in a B2G partnership model.
  3. Work to standardize design principles and components with a Design System.

XI.

Retrospective

Looking back on this stage of the project I learned many things.

This was truly one of the most exciting teams and projects I have been a part of. It was a pleasure to get to work with so many intelligent, hardworking, fun team members who all had the same passion to do whatever it takes to figure out how to make a collective vision a reality.

In a product space as brand new as this was, it was a formidable challenge and true adventure - one with everyone putting on many hats. There was a lot of trial-by-fire in figuring what worked and what didn't, but the team spirit and camaraderie made an impressive milestone possible.

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