Automotive UX and the Dashboard of the Future
Everyone’s getting excited about interactive technologies making their way into the automotive space. Social web features like twitter, facebook, foursquare and others have been in our cars for several years now, just on our mobile devices and not packaged as a piece of the overall dashboard experience. Product managers at all major car-manufacturing houses have been thinking about ways to bring technology of today and the future into our cars. To date, a lot of teaser videos and commercials have been showing Minority Report like heads up displays on the dash, touch screen windows and voice command interactions and some of these are starting to come on line… others are still in R&D and off in the distance. So where are we in the meantime?
Over the past several years, Onboard Touch Screen Consoles have been making their way into the market… and they’re all the rage! While the trend started in the mid 90′s with outboard GPS systems and LED media displays, there’s been a lot of momentum behind putting integrated systems into center consoles of vehicle and trying to pack it with as many features as possible.
While the gadget lover in all of us is starting to feel all warm and fuzzy, there are definitely some inherent risks. Basically, anything taking your attention off the road is bad. So it seems the “don’t talk on the phone or text and drive” sensibility is giving way to our gadget luv.
But let’s take a second and acknowledge some contextual realities. You’re in roughly 4000lbs of metal with a combustible engine moving 25-35mph in the city and 55-75mph on the highway. Does it make sense to be taking your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken the position that:
Some technologies are simply too distractive for most drivers. Touch-screen computers found in most Ford models used to control the radio, climate, and in-car navigation was said to be “overly complicated and distracting” according to Consumer Reports. And, some vehicles in the GM lineup offer communication tools to verbally update Facebook and Twitter pages – a feature too distractive for most drivers.
Here are some approaches to packing your car with technology and apps in a way that doesn’t interfere with your driving:
1) Interactive Apps in the Car are for the Passenger, Not the Driver
This is pretty straightforward… keep the distracting tech geared towards passengers and steer clear of putting the driver’s attention at risk.
2) You’re car is the interface… not your fingers/eyes.
This is the really innovative approach… the car and it’s native features are an extension of you. There is a lot of untapped opportunity to be explored in this concept.
Here are some other ideas worth exploring:
Take advantage of where the driver’s hands already are… the wheel. Thanks to advances in Mobile, tech and gadget users are getting used to a wide vocabulary of haptic gestures. Add text to speech and voice commands technology and you’ll really get some rich user experiences without taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.
Whatever the approach – there will be mishaps along the way. Today’s ubiquitous cup older has had a long journey from glove compartment trays and door holsters to armrests, center consoles and dash boards, the cup holder seems to be a feature the some manufactures “get” and others don’t.
The only way to continuously improve designs towards efficiency and usability is to explore opportunities, prototype, test, and tweak. Who knows this better than Donald Norman, author of Emotional Design. Donald states that Audi’s approach to the cup holder seems to “reflects the old-fashioned German automobile design culture, which proclaims that the engineer knows best, and considers studies of real people driving their vehicles irrelevant.”
We’re keeping an eye on interaction design in the automotive space, things are about to get interesting! Let us know what interactive automobile experiences you’ve had that either work or fail – we want to hear from you! Thanks for reading.