VR for the Study of Moral Dilemmas involving Driverless Cars
The pressing need for a future with fewer road accidents rapidly increased the interest for the technological advancement of driverless cars, which have now reached to such a point, that they can soon be used by civilians for their everyday transportation. However, considering that human drivers are not needed, questions arise regarding their nature, as well as their tenor and issues concerning autonomous navigation in moral dilemma situations have excessively come into sight. Several different data-driven approaches that use text-based surveys and online platforms have tried to tackle this challenge, however, we argue that this is not a realistic enough way to assess people's responses towards moral dilemmas involving driverless cars. Exploiting the fact that people tend to respond realistically during situations recreated using immersive virtual reality technology, in this project, a pilot study was conducted in order to get an insight on how people evaluate the morality of decisions a driverless car should inevitably make in moral dilemma scenarios. A virtual reality simulation was designed and developed, through which users were able to fully experience a moral dilemma leading to an accident, as the passengers of a virtual autonomous vehicle. The participants responses were recorded using a questionnaire to assess their sense of presence and identify their moral preferences for the decisions made by the driverless car. Despite the small sample used, results showed that participants were both surprised and absorbed during the virtual reality simulation, with their answers regarding how driverless cars should behave being mostly similar to literature. Nevertheless, their intense emotional reactions during the presented moral dilemmas and small declinations from past surveys, provide encouraging evidence for the use of virtual reality as a tool for future experiments using multiple scenarios that should be further investigated.