The in-car Human Machine Interface (HMI) is an evocative confluence of design excellence and compelling customer experiences. Mobile millennials are unwilling to let go of ‘connectivity’ during their mundane commute, demanding seamless and omnipresent connections between the machine and their worlds. Car ownership patterns have also undergone a drastic change. The ‘uberization’ of transport and various pay-as-you go models are transforming transportation for millennials. Undoubtedly, transportation is an integral part of the mobile universe where their interaction with the world continues. There is no brief lull for focusing on the road as millennials are seeking the same user experiences in their vehicles just as their public and private spaces.

With driverless cars and autonomous vehicles becoming the new normal, HMI needs to effortlessly connect people and technology like never before. But delivery is falling short of customer technology expectations today and manufacturers have a huge opportunity to deliver cost effective HMI solutions that are in tandem with millennial needs. 

Smartphone integrated HMI for compelling experiences

The Smartphone revolution has transformed the HMI landscape. The affordability of smartphone technologies, ubiquitous IoT devices and the entry of tech icons like Apple and Google into the car industry, has engendered the democratization of in-car HMI. Apple has already entered this space with Apple Pay in the iTunes bundle, SIRI speech interfaces, new haptic technology and much more. Google’s connected car technology and Android-focused Open Automotive Alliance for car infotainment is creating waves. These tech giants already have patents pending for the cockpit area, Car Plays and safety connects and are working with OEM’s like Ford, GM and Volkswagen for futuristic in-car systems.

Feature-rich functionalities that can be engaged through a smartphone are an emerging template for HMI. This offers a great growth opportunity for consumer electronics, telecom providers, and technology companies to engage in the automotive industry. 

Safety made simple – HMI Haptic feedback for the road

Safety watchers in the automobile sector have raised concerns about the touchscreen technology that is reducing the tactile feedback necessary for safety measures. That’s where electronic haptic feedback steps in. The focus here is to reduce multiple distractions that increase “glance time” for those driving on a lonely stretch. Implementing haptic feedback like touchpads and inductive sensing technology, to name a few, can help reduce driver distraction while enabling the advanced, tablet-like user experience which automobile buyers are looking for. 

Gesture and voice recognition for enhanced human-car interaction

In-car voice and gesture activated controls and ambience lighting, holographic displays and 3D interfaces are no longer distant sci-fi dreams. Veteran industry watchers are amazed by the strident evolution of speech activated personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft Cortana or Apple’s Siri. Gartner is estimating that consumer spending on VPA-enabled wireless speakers will reach $2.1 billion by 2020. According to IHS Markit, 90% of the new cars will house some level of speech recognition technology.

Voice activated controls based on speech recognition can deliver nuanced driver-vehicle interaction. Integrated voice technologies such as voice recognition, text-to-speech and speech-to-text allow drivers control entertainment and navigation systems effortlessly. Industry insiders have hinted at the increasing demand for in-car hand gesture and voice recognition technology as a potential solution to driver distraction issues. 

Intelligent and connected infotainment

Customers are clamoring for continued access to entertainment and information during their commute. Not surprising that smartphones have successfully bridged the product lifecycle gap and vehicles have connected with devices like personal navigation, home automation systems and PCs for a continued user experience. Infotainment systems are not only used for entertainment. Safety features like rear view and night vision cameras, augmented reality head-up display and black box recording are integrated with smartphones and cloud to enable a connected driver experience. But the most futuristic concept that is gaining traction in the motor world is the integration of multiple user interfaces through multimodality and localization of HMI, ensuring efficient and safe interaction between the driver and the vehicle. 

Autonomous cars are the next stop for future-ready HMI

Tomorrows connected cars will be a standalone electronic device that can communicate and interact with other devices in the environment. The in-car HMI has the ability to heighten the contextual awareness of the driver to ensure smooth interaction between the vehicle and its occupants. Completely automated cars will provide diverse communication – haptic, visual, kinetic and multimodal – for a safe and rich on-road experience.

Human-Machine Interfaces will create a continued learning experience where a vehicle and its driver interacts, learns and exchanges feedback to work towards a common goal. This is not just limited to in-car user experiences. We wouldn’t be wrong to call a connected car an automobile partner which pays its own insurance, interfaces with creditors, alerts your home automation devices or even interacts with your childcare professional. HMI is driving us towards that not-so-distant future.

Written by Thomas Kramer

on 10 Nov 2017

Thomas Kramer is our Head of Electronics and Software Development at QuEST Germany. He has over 21 years of international experience in the automotive field. He started his career back in 1994 at a Japanese automotive major. During this tenure of 11 years here, he collected a wide range of experiences on various products and gained significant multicultural skills. He was in charge of all German OEMs and related suppliers. In 2005 Thomas moved over to an US based automotive major, taking charge of navigation map data for an advanced German OEM. Prior to joining QuEST, Thomas worked with another Japanese automotive major as Business Manager for their German activities. Thomas holds a diploma in electrical engineering.