Equipment buyers typically focus on factors like horsepower and lifting capability, but human-machine interfaces may be the most important factor for off-highway vehicle operators. Differentiating these HMIs and customizing them for various models are critical factors during the development process.
Design teams must also figure out how to maintain a consistent look and feel across all the company’s vehicles. Design tools are making it simpler for developers to handle these and other tasks, often by providing a library of software modules that can be inserted to let OEMs quickly create software for common functions so they can focus on the more complex aspects of user interface development.
“Pre-programmed visual elements, which allow for easy customization, are available for use with a multitude of operating parameters on different vehicles,” said Evan Artis, Product Manager, Electronic Controls & Software, at Eaton’s Hydraulics Group. “This allows customers to bypass much of the effort that is typically required on the front-end of application development for visual HMI devices, facilitating rapid deployment.”
Those pre-programmed software modules continue to advance. When design teams get similar requests from a number of customers, they often create software that solves the issues. Some developers are already focusing on over-the-air updating, which will help OEMs reduce the cost of fixing software bugs and update programs in the field.
“Our tools are now enabling over-the-air updates,” said Mike Juran, CEO at Altia, a supplier of UI engineering tools. “This helps OEMs keep the HMIs fresh, improve usability, add features, or fix bugs without needing a recall.”
This ability to alter software is a critical factor for HMI suppliers. They must make it simple for their OEM customers to create HMIs that provide brand recognition and a friendly look and feel.
“The ability to build smart operator interfaces that clearly differentiate the vehicle from the competition is very important for vehicle OEMs,” said Christiana Seethaler, Product Development Director, TTControl. “A customizable logo can be shown during boot-up of the device. Furthermore, the display application can be programmed in a way that allows end-users to adapt HMI parameters such as the menu to individual needs and preferences.”
As it becomes easier to change some parameters after vehicles leave the production line, fleet owners may get into the act. They may add company-specific images or information.
“Large fleet owners like Amazon or WalMart may want to create their own experience for their own drivers,” said Manuela Papadopol, Marketing Director at Elektrobit, which makes HMI design tools. “It wouldn’t be difficult for them to create a specialized HMI that runs on top of the vehicle software.”