During the fall semester of 2016 I took a course at UC Berkeley titled Reimagining Mobility, a Ford-sponsored course. Our class was challenged to embark on an empathetic design journey to understand the needs of today's mobility product users and develop our own solution that would address key future challenges in the mobility industry. Carpt is a self-driving platform that our team designed to address the complex transit landscape that will be brought about by the advent of autonomous vehicles.
Our four person team worked together to build and refine the vision behind Carpt. I acted as a Design Lead and Project Manager throughout the course, organizing our team discussions and leading the decision making process. I additionally played a key role in each step of the design process including interviewing users, building physical prototypes, creating animations, and presenting our final design results.
The picture above illustrates the beginnings of our design effort. Our process started with user interviews. We worked to compile input from a variety of mobility product users in an effort to better understand the pain-points and priorities inherent to each user. Our interviewees included a UC Berkeley undergraduate, a local shop cashier, a local bus driver, an exchange student from France, and more. We organized the input from this diverse group of users through empathy mapping and subsequently worked to identify themes in the input that we had compiled. These themes allowed us to synthesize point-of-view (POV) statements that outlined the core needs of mobility users. We specifically chose to focus on the following POV statement - Mass transit users need simplicity, reliability, and accessibility because they feel anxious about uncertainty. This statement led to the development of a key how-might-we (HMW) question that we used to frame and inform our ideation process - How might we design transportation systems that transform uncertainty into excitement? Throughout our interviews we found that uncertainty was often at the center of the pain-points experienced by mobility users. Is the bus going to be late? Am I going to get in an accident? Is my Uber driver going to be annoying? These uneasy questions that mobility users often address on a regular basis, center around the uncertainty that is inherent to many of today's mobility solutions. With this in mind we decided to focus our ideation session on concepts that could enable the transformation of otherwise uncertain situations into exciting ones.
How might we design transportation systems that transform uncertainty into excitement?
Our team developed over 50 ideas during our ideation process, but ultimately chose to focus our work on the idea that would eventually become Carpt. The idea was brought about while considering the personal transportation environment that will come into play as autonomous vehicles become commonplace. The transition period to a population of purely autonomous vehicles will create an incredibly complex ecosystem of human-driven and fully autonomous vehicles that will present challenges for drivers, autonomous vehicle companies, and government policy makers alike. In this period of uncertainty our team found an opportunity to create excitement. We developed Carpt - a self-driving platform service that can be used to transform traditional vehicles into autonomous cars. The service allows users to order a Carpt via a mobile app, transport themselves and their vehicle autonomously to their final destination, and send the autonomous Carpt on its way to complete another trip. The picture on the right illustrates some of the physical prototyping and user testing that we completed in an effort to fully think through and refine our idea. We worked to understand the key needs of potential users and address those needs through our design process.
Our iterative design process allowed our team to build a final design that accommodated for concerns uncovered through user testing and built upon new ideas that we generated along the way. Safety was a key concern in almost every user interview that we completed, which drove us to convey a sense of safety through detailed mechanical design of the vehicle docking mechanism. Size was also an important factor - we pushed ourselves to develop a design that would minimize the footprint of each Carpt and ensure that a Carpt could travel anywhere that a normal vehicle could. Finally, we quickly
found that the Carpt platform offers more than the ability to convert a non-autonomous car into an autonomous vehicle - it provides a generalized platform for the transportation of goods as well as the development of customized pod transport systems that can be designed around specific user experiences. This realization allowed us to expand the true value of Carpt and opened our eyes to the additional opportunities that exist for commercialization.
The final product of our design process can be seen in the videos and picture below. We developed animations to illustrate the functionality of Carpt and a mobile app wire-frame to convey how users can order and interact with Carpt. This final product along with the process outlined above was presented to members of Ford's design team at their Research and Innovation Center and was extremely well received - with one Ford team member commenting that our idea could be "worth billions". Additionally, our project was chosen by UC Berkeley's Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation as one of a select few student projects to be featured on their website.