From Design to Drive: Enhancing Vehicle Interiors for Modern Drivers

Anyone who loves cars knows that every vehicle is perceived from two perspectives: from the outside and from the inside.

The shape and design determine whether we find a vehicle appealing or not. The aesthetics and individual details are what make us love a car. Every single edge and curve sets the model apart from the others. While technical data is important, it's unlikely that anyone would choose to drive a car based solely on impressive specifications if it lacks visual appeal. The truth is that a car is often more than just a mode of transportation, it's a reflection of our identity and a statement to the world.

Moving from the exterior to the interior, there’s no doubt that people seek a feel-good area that complements their individual tastes and needs. Some people like it purist and sporty, others luxurious and comfortable. But everyone has one thing in common: the desire to feel safe.

With this in mind, the interior should support the driver in their primary task: driving. Everything the driver interacts with should be intuitive, ergonomically well-positioned, and easily recognizable. All built-in assistants should be helpful and not intrusive. Under no circumstances should they be distracting or patronizing. The role of infotainment is crucial here. A well-designed concept distinguishes between features that enhance the driving experience and those that may detract from it, ultimately influencing the overall feel-good factor.

I often like to say, “A user interface is like a joke, if you have to explain it, it's not that good”.

Meeting Evolving Customer Expectations with Expertise and Simulation

We live in a world flooded by technology, encountering its progress constantly across both work and home domains. Consequently, modern cars must reflect this progress and cater to evolving customer needs. Nowadays, drivers expect access to the latest traffic data, seamless streaming services for an enjoyable journey, and intelligent assistants providing flawless voice guidance. These and many more expectations must be determined in advance, considered during concept development, and made possible during implementation.

Addressing these evolving expectations requires expertise in user experience and concept development. Thanks to intive's many years in this field, we not only offer advice but can also develop innovative concepts. Our comprehensive simulation framework enables us to transform ideas into tangible designs in a very short time. By operating driving simulators, we gather valuable insights through surveys and analyses, which inform further development. From initial show cars to prototypes on the road, we can seamlessly integrate simulation with real-world data, ensuring that concepts are accurately evaluated. Moreover, we assess the feasibility of realization, considering factors such as hardware and operating systems.

As a trusted partner of Audi, intive has been instrumental in developing innovative HMI concepts and designs for the automaker. The simulations built by our experts enabled the leading OEM to provide safer and more enjoyable distraction-free driving to its customers.

Diverse Display Designs and Operating Systems

Car manufacturers are exploring new avenues like never before. Some eliminate all haptic controls and pack everything into a touch display. Others are experimenting with center displays, ranging from instrument clusters to passenger infotainment. Then there's the pillar-to-pillar approach—a display that extends across the entire width of the cockpit. One manufacturer has even glazed the entire instrument panel, hiding displays behind it. Displays now come in curved, transparent forms of all sizes and shapes, showcasing boundless creativity in automotive design.

The realm of operating systems (OS) is equally dynamic. Manufacturers are pushing boundaries to bridge the gap between security-relevant real-time systems and Internet services. This drive has led to the development of native solutions by each manufacturer, often supporting Android Auto or Apple CarPlay for mirroring services. Some offer comprehensive solutions running on Android Automotive (different from Android Auto), back all Google services, while others employ branches of Android Automotive without Google Services. It's not uncommon to find multiple OS running in parallel on a single hardware unit. The software landscape is diverse, but hardware constraints and costs remain limiting factors.

From Haptic to Touch: The Evolution of Vehicle Controls

Numerous technical solutions exist for operating vehicle systems, with haptic operation being the most common method. This involves mechanical levers, buttons, knobs, and other controls that are permanently located and usually have a clearly defined task. One advantage is the ability to operate these controls instinctively once familiarized with their placement. For example, the indicator is consistently installed in the same position in most vehicles, requiring minimal conscious effort to engage. Similarly, volume controls, especially rotary controls, offer intuitive operation—users don’t have to think about the direction for volume adjustment or activating the mute function.

The Rise of Intuitive Displays

Navigating the world of rotary controls and joysticks for operating screen content can add complexity. A cognitive shift is necessary here. Users need to focus on the display rather than the control panel and make an effort to learn the controls’ functions.

In contrast, touch displays offer a more intuitive experience. Following the principle of 'What you touch is what you get,' interaction is much more direct. Additionally, there are space-saving advantages. Unlike physical buttons, the same physical space can facilitate several interactions. Depending on the activated screen, different visualizations and reactions are possible. One of the ‘killer’ use cases is map navigation—a feature many have grown accustomed to.

Voice control offers a seamless interaction experience, as drivers don’t have to take their eyes off the road. Users simply articulate their commands to the system, which promptly responds. Similarly, gesture control minimizes distraction by enabling users to trigger system responses through predefined hand or finger movements.

Exploring Multimodal Interaction

Modalities encompass the various HMI operating options we've delved into earlier in this article. Combining these modalities, such as issuing a command via voice control and selecting an option from a list through touch, creates what's known as a multimodal system. The key benefit of multimodal systems is to empower users to choose the most convenient method for them.

Upon examining these modalities, one might wonder why voice control doesn't dominate all functions. Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, there’s still a long way to go before we reach near-perfect success rates. Secondly, the processes are rigidly defined with predefined keywords and known hits. Depending on the task, different dictionaries are applied. Interestingly, this reduction in possible matches actually enhances recognition rates. Historically, the system's understanding suffered as complexity increased––but that changed with the advent of AI.

AI Advancements Transform Human-Machine Interaction

As technology advances, the landscape of human-machine interaction undergoes rapid transformation. Intelligent assistants, powered by neural networks trained through machine learning, have significantly expanded dictionaries, allowing for more flexible and intuitive interactions. Unlike traditional systems with fixed paths, controlling the interface now resembles a dynamic dialogue with the machine, rather than a series of predetermined commands.

Moreover, in instances where AI-supported speech recognition encounters difficulties, alternative modalities offer reliable fallback options. For example, handwriting recognition, a less distracting input method compared to touch keyboards while driving, allows users to write letters with their finger directly on the touch surface. AI algorithms enable the system to better recognize the handwriting input, providing users with seamless interaction experiences.

Collaborating with our in-house AI specialists, we've developed solutions that encompass both voice control and handwriting recognition, integrating seamlessly with cloud and onboard systems. As AI continues to evolve, we foresee a trend towards increasingly intelligent assistants capable of controlling the entire infotainment system, not just individual areas. This evolution, coupled with the integration of Internet services into vehicles, underscores the importance of choosing the right architecture and operating system. What was unthinkable in the past has become indispensable today. This is why, at intive, we have decided in favor of Android Automotive. We have been building expertise in this area for years and applying it to series development.

The Core Focus: Enhancing the Customer Experience

In the ever-evolving landscape of automotive technology, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As we continue to push the boundaries of human-machine interaction, there remains a vast potential for development. Amidst the quest for the next 'killer use case' and the abundance of choices, it's crucial to remember our ultimate focus: the end customer. Keeping the needs and preferences of the end user at the forefront ensures that every innovation adds genuine value to their driving experience. After all, the end customer should always be at the heart of our decisions.

If you will be attending Car.HMI Europe, connect with a member of our team and explore how intive can help you achieve UX and HMI excellence. Let's continue the conversation.

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