Purdue University Graduate School
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Aging and Automation: Non-chronological Age Factors and Takeover Request Modality Predict Transition to Manual Control Performance during Automated Driving

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posted on 2022-09-07, 15:40 authored by Gaojian HuangGaojian Huang

Adults aged 65 years and older have become the fastest-growing age group worldwide and are known to face perceptual, cognitive, and physical challenges in later stages of life. Automation may help to support these various age-related declines. However, many current automated systems often suffer from design limitations and occasionally require human intervention. To date, there is little guidance on how to design human-machine interfaces (HMIs) to help a wide range of users, especially older adults, transition to manual control. Multimodal interfaces, which present information in the visual, auditory, and/or tactile sensory channels, may be one viable option to communicate roles in human-automation systems, but insufficient empirical evidence is available for this approach. Also, the aging process is not homogenous across individuals, and physical and cognitive factors may better indicate one’s aging trajectory. Yet, the benefits that such individual differences have on task performance in human-automation systems are not well understood. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation work was to examine the effects of 1) multimodal interfaces and 2) one particular non-chronological age factor, engagement in physical exercise, on transitioning from automated to manual control dynamic automated environments. Automated driving was used as the testbed. The work was completed in three phases.

The vehicle takeover process involves 1) the perception of takeover requests (TORs), 2) action selection from possible maneuvers that can be performed in response to the TOR, and 3) the execution of selected actions. The first phase focused on differences in the detection of multimodal TORs between younger and older drivers during the initial phase of the vehicle takeover process. Participants were asked to notice and respond to uni-, bi- and trimodal combinations of visual, auditory, and tactile TORs. Dependent measures were brake response time and maximum brake force. Overall, bi- and trimodal warnings were associated with faster responses for both age groups across driving conditions, but was more pronounced for older adults. Also, engaging in physical exercise was found to be correlated with smaller maximum brake force.

The second phase aimed to quantify the effects of age and physical exercise on takeover task performance as a function of modality type and lead time (i.e., the amount of time given to make decisions about which action to employ). However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the study could not be completed, thus only pilot data was collected. Dependent measures included decision making time and maximum resulting jerk. Preliminary results indicated that older adults had a higher maximum resulting jerk compared to younger adults. However, the differences in decision-making time and maximum resulting jerk were narrower for the exercise group (compared to the non-exercise group) between the two age groups.

Given COVID-19 restrictions, the objective of phase two shifted to focus on other (non-age-related) gaps in the multimodal literature. Specifically, the new phase examined the effects of signal direction, lead time, and modality on takeover performance. Dependent measures included pre-takeover metrics, e.g., takeover and information processing time, as well as a host of post-takeover variables, i.e., maximum resulting acceleration. Takeover requests with a tactile component were associated with the faster takeover and information processing times. The shorter lead time was correlated with poorer takeover quality.

The third, and final, phase used knowledge from phases one and two to investigate the effectiveness of meaningful tactile signal patterns to improve takeover performance. Structured and graded tactile signal patterns were embedded into the vehicle’s seat pan and back. Dependent measures were response and information processing times, and maximum resulting acceleration. Overall, in only instructional signal group, meaningful tactile patterns (either in the seat back or seat pan) had worse takeover performance in terms of response time and maximum resulting acceleration compared to signals without patterns. Additionally, tactile information presented in the seat back was perceived as most useful and satisfying.

Findings from this research can inform the development of next-generation HMIs that account for differences in various demographic factors, as well as advance our knowledge of the aging process. In addition, this work may contribute to improved safety across many complex domains that contain different types and forms of automation, such as aviation, manufacturing, and healthcare.


National Science Foundation [Grant #: 1755746]

Link Foundation


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Industrial Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Brandon J. Pitts

Additional Committee Member 2

Robert W. Proctor

Additional Committee Member 3

Paul C. Parsons

Additional Committee Member 4

Shirley Rietdyk

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