How the cockpit of the future might look like
Audio Mobile’s HMI model is not a vague futuristic study: The company claims that the concept is a near-series implementation. The research vehicle is based on 25 years of experience in developing communication technologies for cars. Despite being an almost invisible low-profile company, Audio Mobil is involved in HMI and ergonomics research for several major OEMs and lists Audi, BMW and Daimler as reference customers.
The most striking feature of the Car-ICT3 is its interactive steering wheel. Apparently inspired by formula one cockpits, it brings all controls and instruments directly into the wheel, enabling drivers to control all major functions in the vehicle without taking the hands off.
Figure 1: No conventional instrument cluster, all displays are attached to the steering wheel
The design is based on the cognition that over the past years the complexity of the HMI has increased exponentially. Many cockpits and centre stacks are overloaded with keys and buttons. Plus, even with handsfree set, the usage of a mobile phone is a significant risk factor for traffic safety. "The vast number of features, functions and connectivity components drives the driver’s capability of cognitive information processing to its limits," says Audio Mobil chief designer Joseph Fellner. This assessment is backed by a number of studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSH) of the USA as well as by the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Contextual Interfaces of the Salzburg University. The common denominator of these studies: Conventional HMIs are hitting their limits.
Figure 2: All functions are at the driver’s finger tips. For higher resolution, click here.
As a result of these considerations, Audio Mobil developed together with Japanese automotive safety expert something it calls Interactive Communication Steering Wheel. It bundles all interaction options at the steering wheel without forcing the driver to take his hands off the wheel of redirect its eyes from the street to the dashboard or the centre stack. Navigation, radio, climate, light – all these functions are concentrated at a small box inside the wheel that can be reached with the fingers. Likewise, the instrument panel is integrated and equipped with an additional touch panel. Context-sensitive soft keys with haptic feedback reduce the number of buttons and keys in the environment of the driver; the respective context is indicated by the colour of the illumination.
Figure 3: color coded function keys as elements of an intuitive user interface
Another aspect of the Car-ICT3 platform is its partitioned approach with respect to the drivers and passenger’s connectivity. Towards this end, the vehicle offers three different usage worlds for driver, front seat passenger and rear seat passengers. These three worlds in turn are divided into four sections – like driver and front seat passengers, both passengers in the rear seat get their own private connection to the infotainment system with its audio and video resources. The concept includes highly directional microphones in the roof as well as loudspeakers integrated into the head rests that enable each user to listen to his private sound track or to hold his phone conversation without with the others. Traffic information is solely directed to the driver’s zone. Nevertheless, a touch panel enables the users to connect to the others. For instance, the front panel passenger can enter a navigation destination and "push" it over to the driver. Multiuser video games are also possible.
Though Audio Mobile obviously uses an Audi sedan as its technology platform, the company declined that the concepts introduced have been commissioned by that carmaker. The characterisation as "near series" refers to its degree of design maturity, a company spokesperson explained. "This wheel can be adapted to just about any vehicle", he said.