April 3, 2014

Let’s talk user interface … “Deconstructed”

By John Kosinski II

In-vehicle user interface and HMI (Human Machine Interaction) designs have become a white-hot topic for users and designers alike. The deconstructed interface can be broken down into three elements that work together seamlessly:
  • Style
  • Interaction
  • Core Logic Structure

Once the impact of each section on design is clearly understood, the designer can target what works and what doesn't.

The style or graphic user interface (GUI) is responsible for the overall design theme including graphics, fonts, colors, etc. This is the driver’s initial interaction with the vehicle controls and can lead to a positive or negative first impression. The user immediately tries to understand what is being presented and relates that with past experiences – leading to their next input.

The core logic structure or architecture is also involved in this stage by providing screen layouts to the GUI designer.

Analyzing the driver’s reaction to the screens can provide insight about their learning curve as it relates to the vehicle controls. If the user does not encounter issues, then the design intent was properly executed. If the user does not like the GUI or architecture, it can be defined two ways:

1. They do not like the graphics, font readability, or have had little or no prior experience with the controls. This is the most common issue as research has shown that users prefer to use controls with which they are familiar.
2. The design is not intuitive. This leads to strong negative feedback because users need to learn a new system.

The user’s immediate response to the style would be: “it’s too busy”… “the colors are cartoon like”… or “it’s distracting.”

Interaction or User Experience (UX) with the vehicle controls is the second level of learning. UX is tied to the visual connections and the subsequent user action. For many years vehicle interfaces were separate direct-entry controls. Today, vehicle controls have merged into a common interface due to increased connectivity.

Touch screens provide new interactions that may be unfamiliar to the user, but allow interface methods that help them reach their desired result. Increasingly, content is being designed with touch screens in mind.

Rotary control interfaces display functions in a list format – similar to the traditional direct entry method. A rotary interface usually requires more steps to complete a task due to its four-way control: up, down, enter, back. Actions are linear and unlike a touch screen, cannot be skipped using hidden functionality. This approach takes a little more time to execute than a touch screen, but is preferred by some users.

After the user initially interacts with the vehicle controls, their reaction is generally one of the following: “that was neat”… “why did they to it that way?”... or “my phone does it another way.”

Core Logic Structure
The final portion is the core logic structure or architecture of the interface. The architecture manages the overarching structure and flow. This may take the driver weeks to learn, so consistency is critical when developing the interface.

If the user initially enjoyed the interface, over time it may become a repetitive chore. We avoid this by minimizing the number of steps and time it takes to complete any given task.

This is also where an in interface can break down because features could have been added after the initial design stage. Therefore, it is imperative to create a flexible interface from the bottom up using key elements, layouts and interactions. This is essential to retaining longevity in interface development.

At Visteon we’re always watching the latest technology trends and thinking about how to safely integrate them into the vehicle. As this in-vehicle experience evolves, what trends would you like to see?

John Kosinski II is a technical fellow at Visteon responsible for user interface architecture development. During his 22-year career in automotive electronics, he has developed more than 30 unique interface designs from innovation to production programs integrating new technology and applying advanced concepts. He has also worked in audio applications and product requirements roles. In recent years, John has been teaching SAE seminars on in-vehicle interface design (SAE #C1431) to help develop new talent for the automotive industry.

March 11, 2014

Taking Cues from Consumer Electronics…

By Upton Bowden

A new year brings excitement to many industries and this is especially true for the automotive sector. Interestingly enough, many key players in the auto industry began the year by participating in the world’s largest consumer electronics Show: CES in Las Vegas. This event showcases the newest gadgets that will appear in stores over the ensuing 12 months. Huge thin-panel televisions, audio equipment and gaming always have a strong presence. 

This year, wearable electronics was the single largest new product category. Known as “wearables,” the range of devices spanned from economical to luxury and support a number of features including connectivity, fitness, health and convenience. 

2014 marked a banner year for automotive participation at CES. In addition to an automotive keynote speaker, nine automotive manufacturers and 15 Tier 1 suppliers exhibited, with countless more sending delegates. Why? The automotive trade looks to the consumer electronics industry as a source of innovation. Automotive suppliers like Visteon work hard to ensure that the vehicle you purchase now or in three years will be compatible with the latest technology trends. Soon you will see vehicles that can be personalized like your phone home screen and seamlessly connect to your wearable devices – all while streaming Cloud content.

At Visteon, the innovation team returns from CES each year and immediately begins brainstorming inventions for next year. This year, Visteon showcased automotive innovations leveraging advanced displays, eye tracking, data analytics, gesture tracking, cloud connectivity, wireless charging and a number of other technologies first shown at CES and then widely adopted in mobile electronics.

To show how far the industry has progressed, in the year 2000 only premium vehicles connected to mobile phones using a Bluetooth® technology link. Today, aux, Bluetooth and USB are available on nearly 100 percent of new vehicles. In one of our recent research studies, we learned that four out of five consumers prefer to access Cloud-based content that streams from personal media libraries or third-party content providers. This is important to factor into new technologies, as a typical vehicle in 2014 contains more than three connected devices at a given time. 

Visteon is striving to meet the challenge presented by the connectivity demands of today’s drivers – providing them with access to the world of connected data and devices while enabling a non-distracting driving experience. Visteon research shows that 85 percent of drivers prefer an automotive user interface that is familiar to them. Familiarity does come with usage; however, it can be accelerated if modeled after an interface that one is already familiar with – like their mobile phone. 

What interface controls would you like to see in your next vehicle?

Upton Bowden is an electronics marketing and portfolio planning manager at Visteon responsible for identifying innovative concepts and developing compelling automotive applications. Upton leads consumer research clinics to evaluate advanced concepts and study user acceptance. During his 23-year automotive career, he has worked in manufacturing, product design, program management, marketing and technical sales at Visteon and Ford Motor Company.

February 20, 2014

A New Era Begins for Enhanced Vehicle Safety

By Brian Daugherty

The U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s recent and long-awaited announcement that it is moving forward with vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) for light vehicles is a watershed event for automobile safety. 

Previous U.S. safety-related vehicle regulations have focused on self-contained, single vehicle systems such as seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. V2V technology expands beyond the individual vehicle to collect and share data with surrounding vehicles – thereby dramatically increasing the information available to each driver. The path outlined by NHTSA focuses on deploying 5.9 GHz transponders on all new passenger vehicles so they can communicate basic safety data with each other, including position and intended path. These systems will enable drivers to receive warnings of potential collisions, thus potentially avoiding many accidents. Other warnings include dangerous or slippery road conditions, curve speed warnings and traffic congestion information. One of the biggest impediments to fielding a successful collaborative, radio-based vehicle safety system is getting a significant number of systems on the road.  NHTSA’s announcement assures a path to that critical mass and gives the final deployment push to a development effort that has spanned several decades. 

Visteon has been involved in V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) efforts (collectively known as V2X) for many years and we are excited about working toward a more definitive deployment goal – albeit one with yet-to-be-defined timing. Automotive grade chipsets are now available from a number of suppliers and we have production path hardware.

The Ann Arbor Safety Pilot Deployment
NHTSA also took actions to indefinitely continue and expand the Ann Arbor Safety Pilot Deployment – the world’s largest deployment of V2X technology. This deployment is managed by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and involves nearly 3,000 cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and bicycles. Plans are being developed to expand the Ann Arbor effort in stages to eventually include more than 25,000 vehicles. This will enable final verification and validation of the technology in a real-world environment prior to a national deployment. Visteon is actively involved in the safety pilot and will be assisting with the expanded fleet.

The FCC and 5.9 GHz Spectrum Issues
As NHTSA moves toward rulemaking and deployment, hopefully the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will not open up the V2X-dedicated 5.9 GHz spectrum to other uses.  Keeping this safety-related communication band free of interference will be even more important in avoiding preventable accidents in the future, especially as more V2X-equipped vehicles are produced. 

On a related note, I will be moderating a panel discussion on “How Smart Devices Can Add Day One Value” at AutoBeat Daily’s Beyond the Connected Vehicle conference on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 at NextEnergy in Detroit. V2X will be one of the connected technologies in the program.

Brian Daugherty is an associate director at Visteon Corporation and has global responsibilities for corporate advanced development and intellectual property. Recent projects in his 23-year career include V2X communications, advanced driver awareness systems (ADAS) and the optimization of Visteon’s patent portfolio. Based at Visteon’s corporate offices and innovation center in Van Buren Township, Mich., Daugherty also manages a number of industry and university partnerships.