Dr. Rabindra Ratan is studying the ways transportation and communication intersect with his research in “carmunication.”
Ratan is an associate professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Media & Information.
“I came to mobility research through an unconventional path,” Ratan said. “As a communication researcher, I realized that automobiles are a technology of communication, albeit traditionally not a great one.”
Through the use of turn signals, horns, bumper stickers and more, cars are used to convey messages to other drivers. Ratan’s research applies communication theories to automotive transportation. He studies social perceptions of automobiles and how they relate to the way people drive.
“We found that people who treat their cars socially, meaning they give it a name or talk to it, were more likely to dislike other drivers on the road, and this was associated with more self-reported aggressive driving,” Ratan said. “Conversely, we found that people who see the car as a self-representation, like an avatar, by customizing it with bumper stickers, etc, were more likely to report positive feelings about other drivers on the road and thus less aggressive driving.”
This research can be used to inform potential design decisions in autonomous vehicles. For example, by designing the vehicle so the owner can customize it, like an avatar, the owner is more likely to feel connected to the technology and use it. Ratan’s research in carmunication is far from over. He and his research team are studying how designing transportation technologies to act like virtual assistants can be beneficial or detrimental. They are also looking at how advertising using these technologies can be best implemented.
“I am excited to explore these potential applications of modern media technologies within the mobility context,” Ratan said.