Contrary requirements determine the design of the user interface: On the one hand the driver should receive as much relevant information as possible, on the other hand he should not be distracted. This is particularly true against the background of the flood of data that pours into the driver of the connected car. It is therefore always important to dynamically adapt the display to the context – a tightrope walk. This is clearly illustrated, for example, by the digitization of the cockpit: instead of mechanical rotary knobs and buttons, context-sensitive menus are used in which the driver selects the desired function on a touch-sensitive display. The problem is that this form of user interface requires multiple visual contacts – first to identify the position of the virtual switch on the display, and then again to verify the respective operation.
In the age of menu-driven function selection, haptic feedback is therefore required when entering control commands on the glass surfaces. Continental’s developers use innovative materials with morphing properties, among other things, for this purpose. As few keys as necessary should make as many functions as easy to operate as possible. To achieve this goal, Continental combines a visual appearance with a novel operating concept in a three-dimensionally shaped touch display: The operating elements provide haptic feedback. With virtual keys, the display is pushed forward by a fraction of a millimeter when the key is pressed, giving the driver the impression of a haptic mechanical click. Continental has also applied this approach to virtual rotary switches and knurled wheels: Although the display is purely virtual, the driver gets the impression of a rotary switch with locking positions when turning and pushing the corresponding knobs.
Another approach from Continental’s HMI development labs is to use morphing controls, which only take shape when needed. A capacitive proximity sensor behind the surface of the dashboard detects the human hand and triggers the activation of the keys. These push forward through the reversibly stretchable, multi-layer surface material. The material was developed by the surface specialists in the Continental Corporation. Thanks to its minimal scattering effect, the film used permits very precise and contour-accurate depiction of the illuminated symbols with high illumination intensity and homogeneous illumination at the same time. An important feature of this user interface is also the haptic feedback. This means that such a user interface can be operated almost blindly. The technology is already quite advanced and should be able to go into series production in the next vehicle generation.
The right balance between sensory overload and concentration is also the focus of the “empathic interior”, of which Continental presented a prototype. The supplier uses artificial intelligence to record driver habits in the respective environment, for example. The model incorporates the traffic situation; the Continental developers also want to capture the driver’s mood via camera and AI in order to be able to counteract this with warning messages, for example, if the driver shows signs of nervousness or distraction. Further planning will involve drawing conclusions from the driving style and degree of vehicle control in order to adapt the behavior of driver assistance systems accordingly, for example: Good, focused drivers are then allowed to drive more sporty.
Continental also wants to break new ground with head-up displays (HUDs). Augmented reality should make more versatile and lively displays possible. The problem with today’s systems are voluminous projectors. With the help of the holographic waveguide technology of the US start-up Digilens, Continental wants to be able to build much more compact HUD systems in the future. At the event, the company presented a demonstrator that was not yet far from a functional model from the physics laboratory. After all, it became clear that holographic HUDs require considerably less space in the dashboard than conventional HUDs.
In this system, Continental uses a different technology than the Swiss startup WayRay who recently made headlines because the sports car manufacturer Porsche has acquired a stake in the company and probably wants to use its technology in its own vehicles. In contrast to WayRay, Continental’s technology does not require reflector foil in the windscreen, explained a Continental developer. This makes Continental’s technology considerably cheaper – “especially in cases when the windscreen needs to be repaired or replaced.”