Harman CTO discusses cutting edge HMI design

  • 22-Oct-2015 12:20 EDT
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Prototype rotary controller which dynamically changes diameter to convey information regarding infotainment system mode.

Business Insider Intelligence forecasts that 75% of the estimated 92 million cars shipped globally in 2020 will be built with Internet-connected hardware. Imagine all the data going in and out of each system embedded into millions of vehicles and what this means for user interaction.

With all of these data come the critical need for safety and strategic design to ensure proper consumption. How does the system know what data are intended for the driver or for the system itself? Does it make driving more complex or, worse, more distracting?

How these systems are designed to expose information to drivers and passengers through their human-machine interface (HMI) systems is critically important to the vehicle of the future. Without an intuitive approach and design, we, as inventors and engineers of new in-vehicle technology, could ultimately detract drivers’ attention from the road, putting everyone at risk.

There is a larger conversation needed on how future-looking HMI designers and engineers can work toward more innovative and user-friendly solutions that minimize distractions on the road and maximize efficiency of information going in and out of connected vehicles. There are four main considerations to tackle these concerns:

It’s more than just the eyes and ears: The way engineers currently develop HMI systems requires drivers to use their eyes and ears as the main method of system interaction. This is an industry-wide problem where we overload the driver with too much information but do not have a solution to balance information across all usable senses. By implementing better solutions that ease off the eyes and ears and incorporate better use of the user’s fingers, palms—and even their wrists, the driver can keep their eyes on the road and pay more attention to their surroundings. As an example, mechanical and pneumatic actuator technology may lower cognitive load since it creates an intuitive communication channel between car and driver without using the driver’s eyes or ears.

Make better use of people’s spatial perception: Right now, many output methods are flat, both in the visual and auditory domain. This needs to change. When interfaces become more spatial, they become easier for users to comprehend. For example, a Harman team of researchers is testing HMI systems based on advanced 3D displays and view-dependent rendering technology to create a pseudo-holographic display system. The purpose of such systems is to take advantage of the volumetric space between driver and steering wheel. Machine intelligence decides which information is most relevant to the driver and moves the most important information closer to him/her.

Sensing non-verbal language: Very few interfaces pay attention to people’s subtle non-verbal cues, and HMI system engineers often overlook how much information facial expressions can convey, such as what they really want, think, or feel. Luckily, engineers are on the right path to address this issue by using technologies such as eye vergence sensors and transparent displays, which enable display solutions that can track not only eye gaze direction but also focal point of the driver. It dynamically adapts transparent display content to the driver’s interest, be it through explicit eye gestures, or sensing the driver’s unconscious eye motions.

High cognitive load management systems: As future-experience automotive engineers, avoiding distractions should be our highest goal. There is a fine line between producing information that is informative or distracting in HMI systems. To reduce the overload of data, the system’s design needs to understand not only how the vehicle’s HMI affects the driver, but also how brought-in devices, such as smartphones and wearables, add to the cognitive load. If the system senses that the driver is getting overloaded, it counteracts by reducing visual and auditory information presented to the driver across all devices.

With these four aspects in mind, it is clear that we must consider the missing pieces of the puzzle that will allow us to create more useful, resourceful, and intuitive HMI systems. As an industry, we need to put more emphasis on the importance of making dramatic changes to the way today’s HMI systems are designed. With driver safety as one of the primary connected car concerns, according to JD Powers, it is imperative to move the needle now before the influx of information going in and out of connected vehicles play a more complex and distracting role to drivers and car passengers.

IP Park, Chief Technology Officer, Harman, wrote this article for Automotive Engineering.

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