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To Drive or to Be Driven? The Impact of Autopilot, Navigation System, and Printed Maps on Driver’s Cognitive Workload and Spatial Knowledge

Iuliia Brishtel; Thomas Schmidt; Igor Vozniak; Jason Raphael Rambach; Bruno Mirbach; Didier Stricker
In: ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, Vol. 10, No. 10, Pages 1-19, MDPI, 10/2021.


The technical advances in navigation systems should enhance the driving experience, supporting drivers’ spatial decision making and learning in less familiar or unfamiliar environments. Furthermore, autonomous driving systems are expected to take over navigation and driving in the near future. Yet, previous studies pointed at a still unresolved gap between environmental exploration using topographical maps and technical navigation means. Less is known about the impact of the autonomous system on the driver’s spatial learning. The present study investigates the development of spatial knowledge and cognitive workload by comparing printed maps, navigation systems, and autopilot in an unfamiliar virtual environment. Learning of a new route with printed maps was associated with a higher cognitive demand compared to the navigation system and autopilot. In contrast, driving a route by memory resulted in an increased level of cognitive workload if the route had been previously learned with the navigation system or autopilot. Way-finding performance was found to be less prone to errors when learning a route from a printed map. The exploration of the environment with the autopilot was not found to provide any compelling advantages for landmark knowledge. Our findings suggest long-term disadvantages of self-driving vehicles for spatial memory representations.


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