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Vice President and Global Head, User Experience at HARMAN International

As we gear up to welcome more than 300 million connected cars on road, the auto industry waits with bated breath to know what the car of future looks like. Auto enthusiasts are no less when it comes to anticipating how the futuristic car will elevate their driving experience or will there be any driving. But are we there yet? Recent fatalities associated with self-driving cars have proven they are only in the experimental stage, and automakers are trying their best to find fixes for concerns that are critical. Researchers working on autonomous cars believe there exists a challenge to train these autonomous systems to understand and predict human driving and behaviour. And this raises a bigger question: How do we humanize the driving experience that users actually prefer, rather than just leveraging technology that makes the experience more complex?

The eccentricity of HMI Design

With rapid integration of advanced systems into vehicles, the interfaces within are becoming more complex than ever. While these interfaces serve as prime points of interaction between the driver and the car, the Human–Machine Interfaces (HMI) demand greater attention from automakers, designers and engineers. The key characteristic of the ongoing HMI advancements is the need to communicate anywhere and anytime – mainly to be seamlessly connected. HMI has transformed itself from being just an all-purpose interface that houses multiple features to an intelligent system that influences the holistic in-car experience. Looking at the bigger picture of how human-to-machine interactions will transform – for example, Amazon’s futuristic “Just Walk Out” shopping experience eliminates the need for the traditional retail billing kiosks altogether – how relevant will the digital displays be in the near future. Human-to-Car relationship has transformed over the years and here we look at some of the trends that are shaping the future of in-car experiences and how will it define today’s car HMI.

Deciphering the In-car Interactions

Automotive brands are redesigning the way drivers interact with the in-car systems. Autonomous driving is expected to transform the connected car into a shared space that’s collaborative and has true potential to transform into portable offices or living room-style spaces. With expectations mounting, automakers are leveraging embedded sensors to deliver features such as HUDs (Heads-Up Displays), auto-dimming of interior lighting, and eyelids tracking. Though few of these features demand interaction with the user – both hard (deliberate actions by the driver) & soft (actions performed by the machine) interactions are constantly shifting. 

The concept of a connected car has a significant impact on the way HMI is envisioned and implemented. The radically connected car has hardware, software and HMI as custom-built with deep integration of multimedia systems, diagnostics and control systems. Custom HMI modules leverage software platforms to manage and incorporate different devices and sensors in a car into one platform. However, the top choice is to integrate platforms, devices and operating systems onto a single platform – using Google Maps instead of traditional inbuilt satellite navigation.

Interactive experiences with Tactile Signals

Users interacting through gestures to control certain aspects of HMIs is truly exciting as it presents an opportunity to bring a sense of direct control and feedback. It is progressively easier, not just because of sensors and processors, but also because it offers great interactive patterns for the driver. Macro changes like nodding, facial position, hand gestures, and micro changes like eye movements are emerging interaction patterns and are yet to be catalogued and understood, though there are challenges while mapping and learning these gestural interfaces.

The Car with an Occipital Lobe

With the emergence of V2X(Vehicle-to-everything) & V2G Technologies, the exchange of information between a vehicle and other entities like infrastructure, devices in the vicinity, the grid, and the cloud has indeed transpired to be way simpler than it was touted to be. At Bosch’s proving ground, a demo involving two vehicles approaching an intersection at right angles verified that V2V communication with basic safety messaging allowed them to avoid a collision in the same way that the current automatic emergency braking system works. 

The next-gen innovation of Brain-to-Vehicle (B2V) has capabilities to speed up the reaction time for drivers by decoding his brain to predict actions and detect discomfort. Nissan showcased its experimental concept of ‘Brain to Vehicle’ system that taps into a driver’s neurological activity and ensures control and comfort. When the car is in self-driving mode, the system monitors the driver for signs of discomfort, for instance depending on the driver’s body temperature, the system manipulates the air conditioner and changes the position of air vents.

With an increasing interest in autonomous vehicles, it is clear that comfort, safety, and experience are the key elements to be addressed to define the future of travel. However leading experts have raised concerns about the system’s ability to identify relevant brain activity and feel that anything that requires the driver to wear a sensor would be judged indiscreet.


Experience – the buck stops here!

The new decade opens up the opportunities for connected, autonomous and self-driving cars. With the emergence of Internet of Things, the connected cars can come up with diverse features like – automatic crash notification, speeding and safety alerts, adapt to environmental changes, switch modes for different weather conditions, detect unfavourable road conditions and help in navigating through traffic. But there are severe concerns that the industry watchers have about the level of personalization and in-car experience.

What happens when users share rides in an Autonomous Vehicle? The challenge for the automakers arises when they intend to create common services that define brand experience and still enable a high degree of personalization. For example, the music application market alone has more than 15 widely used apps, and if a user from China shares a ride, will the system support China’s favourite music app QQ Music or KuGou? Car manufacturers have serious challenges in creating direct integrations to multiple services and accommodate infinite personalization at the same time.  

Connected Car’s vision of delivering a unique digital experience is not far-fetched and is on the verge of becoming a reality soon. Along with the transformation of in-car driving experience, it will be a key differentiator for the automobile industry. Despite many concerns and speculations, the car of the future remains an innovation and will emerge a winner in the days to come. Nevertheless, the ultimate experience delivered to the user must be deeply rooted in empathy only then the car of the future will be appreciated and embraced.

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