Can you imagine a world without electricity? We are a team at Carnegie Mellon aiming to solve the problem of power usage among long-haul truck drivers. Thermo King as a leading brand who dominates the APU(auxiliary power unit) market in the US, partnered with us to increase customer value and achieve competitive positioning. In this project I worked as a UX design lead in a multidisciplinary team of 5. We applied our knowledge of HCI, engineering and business to transform truckers’ power usage experience with a customized solution which improves their living condition on the road. Our vision is to give truckers confident control over power consumption in their little cabin.
Context & Scoping
Our initial step is to learn as much as possible about over-the-road profession and value proposition of electric APU. We conducted literature review and reached out to our client to gather valuable information.
What is an APU?
Auxiliary Power Unit is a device on the long-haul truck that provides climate control and electrical power to a variety of devices when truck is parked and reduces unnecessary engine idling.
APU capacity is insufficient to meet drivers’ energy needs due to technology limitations, and hence is interfering truck drivers’ living condition.
Driver shortage is becoming increasingly serious
Bad living condition, potential health problem, and fatal or nonfatal injuries have a deep impact on people’s desire of being a truck driver.
Reframe the Problem
How might we improve truck drivers’ living and working condition through power-related approach and being regulation compliant?
Understanding Human Factor Through Research
To uncover drivers’ needs and desires for power usage experience, is to experience it. We conducted different approaches to understand not only how they live in truck, but also how they would like to live.
Interview & Directed storytelling
We went to several truck stops around Pittsburgh to find drivers to talk to. Since one of our interview challenges was that directly observing drivers’ daily life and behaviors on the road is impossible, we used directed storytelling as a breakthrough to help us get a taste of drivers’ experience with power usage habits. The conversation was led with a story, asked drivers “tell me a story about the last time when you use electrical appliance on your truck…”
We observed drivers’ interaction with current APU human machine interface, and their activities during non-driving time at truck stop. Talked to them to find out their motivations behind behaviors.
Given the resource from the company, we also got chances to approach to experts in the realm of APU manufacturing and logistic industry. We interviewed a truck designer, a fleet owner and an APU dealer.
Sleeping comfort is hard to define as people’s comfort level varies from each other. We conducted interviews to figure out what does comfort mean to them, and identified following things that may impede sleep quality in truck:
- Noise and vibration generated from the engine
- Sweating or chill due to the fluctuation of AC temperature
- Irregular sleep pattern due to unfixed schedule in this profession
- Unhealthy eating habit disrupts sleep cycle
Power requirement research
In order to specify current and future capacity demands, we sent out energy usage survey to 56 drivers. The survey collected data on current and ideal usage duration of electric appliances. We used these data to build profile for each driver’s device use. Due to non-disclosure agreement with Thermo King, we are unable to share survey result. But what is clear is:
- Bulk of energy goes to heating & air conditioning
- Energy consumption for household & electronics are highly individual
Translating Research Data into Insights
With all of the information and data collected from research, we grouped them based on similarity and synthesized actionable insights.
“It’s like everything, you get used to it.” Long-haul truck drivers spend weeks to months away from home, sleeping inside small “hotel”. For them, the truck becomes their first home. Their off-time revolves around getting proper sleep, food and nutrition, entertainment and social interactions. The electricity is essential to support these daily activities.
To communicate the pain point we found during the research, I created a storyboard of Anthony’s typical day:
- Drivers are not aware of low battery level, which can be troublesome when driving in harsh climate.
- Can’t ensure APU is fully charged before using.
- Even it’s fully charged, it’s hard to maintain a personalized comfortable environment during night.
- In order to keep a quiet living condition, APU needs to only be charged while driving.
- Drivers want to have complete access to the power system, not to limit to the 3-knobs interface.
- Enable drivers to control over power usage and APU charging cycle in order to fit their preferences.
Maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment in the truck for the desired duration.
Ideation and Iteration
We actionably applied insights gained from research to the design of the opportunity space and kept iterate our ideas through grouping and testing before finalizing the three polished concepts.
Brainstorming & Affinity diagramming
We generated about 60 ideas and affinity diagrammed them into 7 groups according to similarity. As a team, we continued iterating and combining these ideas through rapid prototyping and co-design activity.
We evaluated our ideas by how well they are addressing the design guides generated from research insights and how well they are working with technological capability. We narrowed down to the 3 most promising concepts and fleshed them out through scenarios. Then we speed-dated the 3 concepts to truck drivers with storyboards, from where we both identified the pros & cons and decided on the final idea.
We followed an iterative design process where we tested usage scenarios and lo-fi prototypes and modified interfaces to achieve intuitiveness. Functional and detailed design will be demonstrating in this section.
An analytics platform that is able to visualize, manage and predict the charge cycle of electrical APU. It will bridge the communication between truck drivers and power system, so that drivers’ comfort is optimized with better sleep during the nights, better opportunity for making good food, getting entertainment, connection to family.
Image Board Inspires Visual Design
Some of the Iterations
Introducing TriPac 4C
Experience the interactive prototype