Telematics, HMIs and perfecting the user experience

The Jumbotron in New York City's Times Square is an eye-popping attraction with its bright lights and constantly changing graphics. It's the last thing you'd want on the dashboard of your car, however. As the information available in the car expands, OEMs need to solve the distraction/utility equation, while keeping the driver focused on, you know, driving.

Touch screens and voice controls are no longer a differentiator in the car; they're table stakes, according to Steve Tengler, user experience director at Altia, a company that provides user interface engineering tools to create graphical user interfaces. Before joining Altia, Tengler managed the global HMI development team at OnStar. "The HMI is the competitive battleground right now. They're all groping for the thing that makes them unique. I don’t know if that will make or break usability," he says. (For more on HMIs, check out Industry insight: Telematics and the human-machine interface and TU’s Automotive HMI Report 2013.)

Eliminating the Christmas tree

The key to usability is giving the driver just-in-time information. Both Delphi and Continental recently demonstrated projects aimed at eliminating what Tengler calls "the Christmas tree effect," a profusion of lights and alerts that become dazzling and ultimately desensitizing for the driver.

Delphi announced MyFi Active Safety, with possible implementation in model years 2015 or 2016. The MyFi Active Safety HMI places all-important information in the driver's field of view, with the ability to control all major functions by the touch of a button on the steering wheel or by voice recognition. The concept car shown at the Consumer Electronics Show 2013 featured a high-mount, transparent display with reconfigurable clusters to keep critical data in the driver's line of view.

According to Victor Canseco, director of software and services for Delphi, MyFi uses natural language processing, so that drives don't have to remember specific commands, and it handles voice processing in the cloud. "To bring this to market, chipsets need to be more powerful," Canseco says. "Also, with voice recognition being offboard, you need connectivity in the vehicle at all times. A lot of what we do [at Delphi] is to add value through the integration of all the technologies."

A crucial part of MyFi Active Safety is a driver state sensor and workload manager that adjusts features based on real-time conditions. For example, MyFi monitors traffic conditions and the driver's incoming text messages; but if traffic is heavy and the driver needs to focus, Active Safety will not read the messages aloud.

The driver state sensor takes information from a driver-facing camera and applies algorithms that help the car's system determine if a driver is tired, isn't looking at the road, or is doing something else that's distracting. In a demonstration implementation, the driver is warned of impending danger with a chime. Canseco says, "A lot of research needs to be done [on what the best warning mechanism would be.] Our sense is that each OEM will want to alert a little differently."

Focus on the driver

Continental also demonstrated a concept that monitors the driver to improve the quality of alerts. Its Driver Focus concept vehicle integrates current advanced driver assistance technologies already available, including lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control, with prototypes of an interior monitoring system and visual HMI technology to make sure the driver’s actions and attentiveness match the real time needs of the driving situation. (For more on driver assistance technologies, see Industry insight: Telematics and V2V/V2X technologies.)

An infrared driver analyzer camera positioned in the vehicle’s steering column recognizes eye and head movements that can indicate the driver is drowsy or inattentive. The camera also recognizes a driver’s facial behavior, such as eye and head movements, which can indicate that the driver is drowsy or has his head turned away from the road in a critical situation.

Continental married this with Halo, an optical guidance feature that grabs the driver's attention and focuses it back on the road. If the driver analyzer camera detects that a driver is looking away from the road while approaching a potential traffic hazard, the Halo will is activated, creating a colored light trail from where the driver is looking to where he should be looking.

In creating HMIs that offer the right level of cues and warnings, Jeff Klei, president of Continental, NAFTA, told an audience at the Chicago Auto Show, "The optimal flow of driving is between boredom and being overwhelmed." HALO also offers OEMs the opportunity to customize and differentiate. The demonstration version, HALO was a line of red LEDs running along the dashboard and shoulders of the car's interior. Tejas Desai, Continental director of interior electronics solutions, says that automakers might choose light colors that match their branding or interiors, for example.


When it comes to infotainment HMIs, the trend is toward providing more than one way for a driver to interact with a particular feature of the car, according to David McNamara, principle of consulting firm McNamara Technology Solutions."What's emerging is a holistic cockpit design approach, where you can control an input to your car through many different ways—voice, touch screen or maybe a haptic control. There are many good ways to control your vehicle," he says.(For more from David McNamara,see Q&A: Telematics and voice control technology.)

According to McNamara, in the rush to differentiate themselves, some OEMs are ignoring the basic "block and tackling" of design at a fundamental level. He says, "Putting large and bright displays high up in the instrument panel where they can be easily read is a vehicle packaging and OEM task. You will see best practices at the Detroit Auto Show; you might see other vehicles that are violating those rules, where the display is too low, down by the shift register or even blocked by the shift register."

To create exciting new HMIs that are also safe and effective, automakers and OEMs should use the process of user-centered design, says Altria's Tengler. The process starts with understanding the goal of an operation and then finding a way to address the goal that's easiest for the end user.

"I don’t' know if OEMs have done that," he says. Most often, he thinks, the same team that designs the outside of the vehicle and the interior plastics has a go at the user interface, after the infotainment and safety systems have been designed. "Of course, they can design something flashy and cool for the touch screen. The folks who get it right reverse the process and put the tinsel on the tree at the end."

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on driver distraction, visit Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2013 on May 15-16 in Tokyo, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Russia 2013 on September 9-10 in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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