Dashboard displays must evolve to support new content and services. Susan Kuchinskas looks at how that evolution will drive innovation
The industry has found three strategies for reducing display clutter and driver distraction, while allowing for more personalization: dynamic instrument clusters that can show the most pertinent or desired information; augmented reality displays on window glass, including the heads-up display for the driver and more fun things for passengers; and gesture controls.
Dynamic instrument clusters
Consumer expectations of rich data about entertainment—think album covers and artist information for music, points of interest for maps—first impelled the industry toward dynamic displays. There was no other way hardware makers could pack all that information onto a screen.
Now, that same dynamism has moved to the instrument cluster. Jaguar Range Rover and Land Rover introduced dynamic instrument clusters in 2009. Cadillac offered its Reconfigurable Gauge Cluster this year, and BMW has announced it will offer similar in 2013.
Praveen Chandrasekar, Frost & Sullivan's telematics and infotainment program manager, thinks this is an important safety strategy: "Today, everything is bombarding a lot of content to the driver, and it needs to be presented in a prioritized manner. It will be a completely digital cluster; you can pull up the kind of menus and info you want to be shown on the cluster. This will be really useful [the more content you have]."
Ford has posited taking this a step further with its Evos concept, in which sensors in the seat monitor the driver's heart rate. When he's stressed, perhaps by traffic or by a challenging road, the car automatically eliminates all but the most basic information from the dash to avoid distraction. (For more on distraction, see DOT’s distraction guidelines as challenge and opportunity, What DOT’s new distraction guidelines mean for telematics and Distraction guidelines as a telematics business opportunity.)
Augmented reality is another way of cramming more content in the car—laying it over the windshield or passenger windows. Toyota has presented its Window to the World, which would allow back-seat passengers to zoom in on the landscape or get information about what they're seeing.
Similarly, this year, GM's Windows of Opportunity (WOO) Project asked art and design students to come up with interactive games and activities. The students produced a full-scale functional prototype of a rear passenger seat and side window with motion and optical sensor technology developed by EyeClick to turn standard window glass into a multi-touch and gesture-sensitive surface. (For more on rear seat solutions, see The great telematics face-off: Tablets vs. rear screens and Telematics and infotainment: Designing rear-seat solutions.)
Augmented reality doesn't have to be all fun and games, says Chandrasekar: "You can use augmented reality for a lot of things. The idea is to use a visual screen to provide dynamic information."
He points to iOnRoad as an augmented reality smartphone app for drivers that is available now. iOnRoad’s VisualRadar maps objects in front of the driver in real time, calculating the user’s current speed using the phone's native camera and sensors. As the vehicle approaches danger, an audio-visual warning pops up to warn the driver of a possible collision.
The bottom line, Chandrasekar says, is, "Putting augmented reality into a smartphone app is easy and useful; putting it into the car is not necessary. How much is needed is a question; it's something that will remain premium." (For more on augmented reality, see Integrating telematics and augmented reality.)
Harman is working on integrating gestural controls for infotainment systems. Hans Roth, the company's director of technology marketing, says, "We need to find other intuitive ways to make operating the infotainment systems and all the functionalities in the car in a safer way." Gestures could be the answer.
The simplest gesture controls already have arrived: the same swiping, pinching and spreading to change screen images that mobile phones use. Roth sees the evolution of gesture-based HMIs in three stages. First is recognition of characters on surfaces such as touchscreens or touchpads. This is available now in systems Harman provides for Audi and BMW.
"It simplifies switching to a different radio station or entering a destination by just scribbling the characters into the pad," Roth explains. This may be more a matter of convenience for North American and European drivers, where voice recognition works relatively well, he says. But in Asian markets, with many more dialects, voice recognition is complicated. There, character recognition is extremely helpful when entering destinations, he says, reducing the necessity for complex menus.
The second stage is moving gestures off the touchpad and allowing the driver to make them in the air. This has the advantage of reducing the driver's need to visually locate the touchscreen, taking her eyes off the road.
Gestures in the air
Harman is working on such systems now, using infrared sensors to locate the driver's hand and recognize its movements. It demonstrated such a system in its Dock + Go concept car. Roth doesn't think that the car could misread gestures the driver made while having a conversation, for example, or making rude gestures at the driver in the next car. Nor has Harman found issues with different body types.
"We know from smartphones that gestures are a very popular interface," Roth says. "Coming back to the safety aspect, as we move forward with the technology, we want to start with simple commands that are very intuitive, and then introduce further signs and functions which we can integrate." He adds that Harman plans to bring gesture-in-the-air HMIs to market in the next two years. (For more on HMIs, see Special report: Telematics and the human-machine interface.)
The third stage is a more robust library of gestures for a variety of controls. For this stage, Harman will use cameras to recognize the hand motions.
There are some implementation considerations for providing a wider range of gesture controls, Roth says. First is placement of the cameras or sensors. That's important in order to make the system perform well, but there are also esthetic considerations that are particular to the automaker.
"Always with the automaker, you have to define the right place and the functionality of this device so it fits into the HMI language that we develop together with the OEM," he says.
Another consideration is cultural differences. With automakers increasingly moving to global platforms, manufacturers have to be certain that none of the gestures translate to something nasty in one part of the world. (For more on cultural differences, see Special report: Telematics and emerging markets.)
Harman is working on a catalog of gestures, and it's possible that there might be some that are standardized across manufacturers, as the mobile phone swipe and the touchscreen tap have become.
While gestural controls can let drivers more easily and safely handle existing infotainment functions, Harman is also working on some new functions that gestures could enable; but Roth couldn't divulge any.
The bottom line, he says: “The demand by the consumer for more functionality is there, and Harman is supporting the OEM to respond to it."
Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.
For more on new displays, see Special report: Telematics and the human-machine interface and Special report: Telematics and apps.
For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s report Human Machine Interface Technologies.
For all the latest telematics trends, check out V2X for Auto Safety and Mobility Europe 2013 on February 20-21 in Frankfurt, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 17-18 in India, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6 and Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 17-21.
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.