The Haptic Drive : Haptic feedback for car interfaces

University essay from Umeå universitet/Institutionen Designhögskolan

Author: Miha Feuš; [2013]

Keywords: haptics; automotive; infotainment; interactions;


With the use of touch-screen enabled interfaces, came a new era for in-car interactions. Sadly, no technology comes without drawbacks, in this case the demand of visual attention, which is desperately needed to operate the vehicle in a safe manner. The main motivation for this project is finding a way to bring the sense of touch back to interfaces while retaining the flexibility that touch-screens have introduced.

The collaborating partner for this project was Icon Incar, who also supported it in many ways. The research phase of this project has been carried out at the company HQ in Berlin. This included feedback sessions at the company, reading research papers on haptics and automotive interfaces, talking to experts in the field of haptics and the facilitation of a workshop. The research helped to confirm the initial problem statement and helped to form ideas in the ideation stage, of which there were many.

Those ideas were a mixture of technologies and sensing abilities that went far beyond the initial problem statement in order keep a brother scope. There were many feedback session, with different people, which were necessary to weed out the bad ideas and keep the viable ones for testing. While building and testing the first prototypes, there was simultaneously a quest going on to find a solution for fully actuated and shape shifting displays, something that has not been done before. While coming up with dozens of possible technical solutions, the fact was overlooked that none of them would provide a good experience (except some far fetched futuristic granular systems). As it turns out, actuating the display itself would not cause any problems, but manipulating the actuation would, because it would not give the best experience. Manipulating actuated button would work and feel just fine, but sliders and knobs - whenever the finger has to move over a surface - would feel unnatural. After more analysis, I found that there is not one technology yet, that could stimulate all the different properties a human being can feel with the sense of touch. Therefor, there have to be many technologies working together to provide the best possible experience.

More than a dozen haptic prototypes have been built and tested to help the users perform various tasks blindly. Those ranged from controlling the climate, scrolling throughout lists, identifying functions and getting feedback for selected options. Many of the ideas did not work out as expected and were discontinued after the haptic testing, which was a vital part of the process. The working ideas were then combined into a larger concept.

To simplify the interface even more, a general list of features was thoroughly studied so that functions could be simplified, combined or discarded. Drivers and car dealers have been interviewed to understand what the most commonly used functions are.

The analysis of existing interfaces has shown that there is currently only one function and type of information provided at any time. This means that the driver can not see directions while changing the music, for example. The concept layout will, therefore, provide information about all the basic functions (climate control, navigation, music and phone) where one function shows all information and others only the basics. To avoid visual clutter and ensure quick recognition, graphic elements have been distilled to their essential forms while still retaining a sense of visual pleasure.

To identify, differentiate between and set climate control, the knob for heating would change its temperature, the ventilation knob blow air at the set speed and the air flow direction knob would tilt in the set direction. While the volume knob would react to the beat of the music. With the help of microfluidics, active buttons would pop out of the screen and can be identified by their shapes. When activating those shape shifting buttons, the driver would feel feedback, similar to the one of real buttons, provided by an actuator at the back of the display.

The combination of all listed solutions would provide simpler interactions and help the drivers to keep their focus on the road. This would in turn make driving a better and safer experience.

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