Vehicle Morality – The VR endeavour

The first study on the vehiclemorality site came to a close at the beginning of September. This marked a very important milestone for the Masters degree and has paved the way to future areas of research, including the subject of this post:

Virtual Reality; An area that is hot with research and an area that this master’s degree is delving into.

What for?

To compare the results of the previous study, with a new factor, immersion.

Is there a significant difference in decision making when adding immersion as a factor into the mix?

The first study showed little area of significance between the two core factor sets being evaluated:

  • Time Pressure
  • Actor Influence

The hypothesis from the previous study, is thus nullified, however there are arguments as to why this was the case.

The way the study was presented only showed actors by a line of text, thus not clearly indicating their position within the environment on the images, not to mention that a two-dimensional image would no doubt have an abstract impact on a participant, thus making decisions questionable as to whether participants would choose the decisions they did, when actually in that situation.

From the study, two areas of interest surfaced which showed potential for further exploration.

Participants showed a difference between intervening compared to continuing down the road, as well as changing their decision based on time pressure, for self-preservation compared to self-sacrifice.

This, as well as immersion, are the core areas for the second study.

Participants will be asked to complete two VR scenarios and then complete an interview to Qualitatively understand the participants decisions. Participants will be randomly assigned between two groups, time and non-time pressure. Actor evaluation will no longer continue, only for the reason the VR study has to be carefully designed, and timed to reduce the risk of motion sickness, not to mention the ability to time manage the quantity of participants would be far easier.

Via the immersive factor and the focus on the areas previously mentioned, could it be possible to highlight that immersion does have a substantial factor on automated ethical decisions? Meaning an important alternative consideration for Vehicle Manufacturers when developing the next generation of Autonomous Vehicle.

The VR environment is being developed as this post goes out, being carefully designed and implemented to be as best a representation of the study design as possible. The expected study date is around March, to run through till May but timing is flexible based on when ethics is complete and the environment is ready to go.

After a number of months of planning, development and testing the first study is available for people to access.

It would be fantastic if you could participate and allow this research to hopefully gain insight into peoples viewpoints across different collision scenarios.

The aim is to have this study running for around a month, by which point the data will be collated and analysed.

It is recommended, if you are on your phone, that you complete the study in landscape due to the way the study is set out.

To access, please go to

Many thanks in advance.

Another potential topic comes to light.

In researching more into the existing work being undertaken in the field of automated vehicles and trust, there is a topic that it, itself, causes a dramatic influence on that of social acceptance and trust of automated vehicles; The Moral Machine.

This social experiment has been around for a couple of years and has been gauging people’s viewpoints on how an automated vehicle should react in a sever, split choice situation. As an example, if an automated vehicle was to be going at a rapid speed and there, in front of the vehicle, is a set of pedestrians crossing the road. On the wrong side of the road for the vehicle, is 1 person, on the correct side of the road, there is 2. The vehicle now has to make one of three decisions because stopping safely is no longer an option. Should the vehicle a) drive into the 2 people, b) drive into the 1 person, c) drive itself off into whatever environmental object the vehicle can find, potentially killing the occupants of the vehicle.

This has been a huge talking point even before the realistic emergence of an automated vehicle, mainly within automated systems used across the industrial sector.

This whole area of understanding and social experiments opens an important door to analyse, however with a major caveat which I shall explain shortly. The current social experiment involves asking people what the vehicle should do based on an abstract image identifying the issue and the outcome. This could raise a concern that those completing said experiment may feel no risk in choosing either option due to their abstractness from the entire situation because it is purely theoretical. In flipside, I could utilise the existing research shown from this study, but attempt to validate or counteract the results, dependant on the outcome of the research I conducted. The research could involve understanding humans decisions in a virtual, real-time environment. This brings an interesting alternative that could improve how we understand social norms during critical conditions.

There is a number of arguments against this potential area of research. Firstly, there is the ethical question of should we really be putting people inside a virtual reality space, then asking them to decide who should be safe and who should not, is that abstractness from the moral machine rightly justified as an ethical line? Well, the argument against this would be that due to it being in a virtual reality space, it still has a level of safety and abstractness that doesn’t actually harm anyone involved (theoretically).

The past point brings me onto the argument against that, which is what is the real point of still having an abstraction that still leaves participants feeling safe and therefore, what’s the real point of the research. My main argument here is the idea of changing the situation to a real-time environment, this will determine what people really socially justify under rapid conditions.

This is still not yet a research topic that is confirmed to be something I will undertake, but it’s another on the cards that needs evaluating and justifying down the line.

My area of Research on Automated Vehicles


With the growing commercial viability of Automated Vehicles, there is a huge array of Research that is being undertaken to determine the public’s viewpoint on the concept of owning/using an Automated Vehicle.

Research from the likes of Gold, Körbera, Hohenbergerb, Lechnera, and Benglera (2015) has already indicated that one of the precursors to the acceptance of a new technology, is that of trust, or, as described from Schaefer, Chen, Szalma, and Hancock (2016); “No trust, no use”. The indication of understanding how a consumer trusts a vehicle is paramount to the adoption of this newfound technology, and must be nurtured to have any major impact on consumers day-to-day lives and the investment that companies have made into this technology.

A meta-analysis by Schaefer, Chen, Szalma, and Hancock (2016) indicates an array of factors that effect trust on automation:

Firstly, the concept of States on a consumer, an example is that of stress level; Consumers can feel different levels of stress throughout their lives and will effect both positively and negatively the trust level towards an automated vehicle. This idea of states is also applied to the concentration, or attention of a human on automated machinery. Several studies have indicated that operators with lower attentional control will rely more heavily on automated systems, that those with a higher attentional control (Schaefer et al., 2016, 381).

Secondly, which closely relates to that of States, is Cognition. A user’s trust is influenced by their learning experience and their ease of interacting with an automated piece of machinery. Further to this, a users prior knowledge of alternate automated systems drastically improves a users trust over an automated system (Schaefer et al., 2016, 382). The significance of this is uncanny as this proves the difficulty manufactures are going to have, in regards to acceptance of the newfound technology. Overtime it is highly likely, as this research indicates, that trust of automated systems would be something of a natural adoption due to humans previous understanding of automated systems.
Another cognitive factor, is the mental workload influenced by the automated system on the human. Previous research utilised with combat based tasks, shows a degradation of trust on automation, when the mental workload is high whilst interacting with the automated system (Schaefer et al., 2016, 382).

These two factors are but a small snippet that has been identified and would essentially form their own book which is not the role of this Blog.

Areas of research that need exploring

From all the literature, there are a few areas which are clear need truly understanding that may assist in providing an insight into the challenge of trusting an automated vehicle.

One area, is the understanding of the difference in age ranges, specifically why the current status quo of technological adoption seems to be being questioned via the automated vehicles. The existing status quo, is that younger people are more likely to adopt a newfound technology, far quicker and easier than an elderly person. Research on automated vehicles, shows a slightly different conclusion that young people have less trust in an automated vehicle than elderly people, one study proved this via the use of eye tracking which indicated a high horizontal deviation in young people compared to elderly people. However, the improvement in trust after the study was far more significant in young people than that of elderly people. The consideration for a research topic here, is not what change in trust is there after a participant is subject to influence from an automated vehicle, but why there is a change in trust, specifically in younger people?

Another area, is the understanding of whether there is a significant trust difference between males and females related to automated vehicles. All studies show a fairly equal proportion of males and females in studies, but there is no measure of any change between genders. If there was a significant difference, it would indicate an interesting area of investigation to determine whether there is a solution that could balance the viewpoint of whichever gender trusts the automated vehicle less.

Finally, an area which hasn’t been investigated. is the trust difference between before and after a critical failure of an automated vehicle, in this case a cyber attack. There is already trust understanding of the difference between stagnant lane driving and a take-over scenario, however there is no understanding of a trust effect when an unexpected failure/cyber attack was to occur on a consumers vehicle. This is an interesting area although ethically questionable.


Out of the three areas of research that could be selected, there is still questions and approval that needs to be answered before a decision and an ethical application can be made before selecting the correct research topic. Once a research topic has been decided on, it will be documented here.


Gold, C., Körbera, M., Hohenbergerb,C. , Lechnera, D., and Benglera, K. (2015) Trust in automation –Before and after the experience of take-over scenarios in a highly automated vehicle. In: 6th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE 2015) and the Affiliated Conferences, AHFE 2015, Las Vegas, United States, 26-30 July. [Unknown]: Elsevier B. V., 3025-3032. Available from [accessed 2 February 2018].

Schaefer, K. E., Chen, J. Y. C., Szalma, J. L., and Hancock, P. A. (2016) A Meta-Analysis of Factors Influencing the Development of Trust in Automation: Implications for Understanding Autonomy in Future Systems. Human Factors: The journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 53(3) 377-400. Available from [accessed 2 February 2018].