May 2, 2016

10 Ways Young Engineers Can Help the Auto Industry
By Husein Dakroub
Lead Engineer—Infotainment & Connectivity          

I was destined to be an engineer even before I knew what one was. Growing up in Dearborn, Michigan, I loved to help people and redesign things like remote-control race cars, robots and computers. My family instilled in me a strong sense of both my American identity and my Lebanese heritage, and I viewed engineering as one of the few effective ways I could positively impact my community and nations around the world.

When I was ready to take my innate engineering skills into the workplace, I gained insight by word-of-mouth from local engineers and friends. I interviewed at a number of automotive companies that could offer a strong mentorship program so that I could quickly learn the technical and manufacturing aspects of products.

I’m 25 now, with a master’s in computer engineering from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a rewarding job with Visteon. I’ve seen firsthand that opportunities for young engineers are expanding with the emergence of electric vehicles, connected and autonomous cars and advanced driver assistance systems.

At Visteon, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in developing a number of electronics products, like the company’s first production consolidated-infotainment solution and LTE/VoLTE-enabled telematics solutions. The impact that I and other young engineers can have on the automotive industry, however, extends beyond any individual accomplishments. We can be an important force in helping automotive companies achieve their goals of bringing advanced and secure consumer technologies into vehicles.

Visteon's OpenAir and SmartCore products are just a few examples of the technologies that Husein has helped create.

If you’re a young engineer, you can take steps to accelerate your career while leaving your mark on the auto industry. These actions can help you progress and succeed:

  1. Connect with people in your industry to learn and understand your role in the company and how you can influence the larger industry.
  2. Embrace challenges by taking on additional responsibilities, relocating internationally and working with off-shore teams.
  3. Bridge the gap among generations in the auto industry by applying your understanding of what millennials and the post-millennial Founder Generation want and need in their vehicles.
  4. Learn from your elders and appreciate the wisdom that has come with their experience.
  5. Interact with various cultures whenever you have the opportunity. I’ve worked with colleagues from Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan and other nations, learning and making connections with people outside my own culture.
  6. Always question what you’re working on. Put yourself in the position of the consumer in determining how you really want a feature within the automobile to work.
  7. Fill gaps by trying to understand where weaknesses appear in a project or the company, and do what you can to overcome those cracks.
  8. Bring solutions, rather than criticism. Often, young engineers are more tech-savvy than professionals from earlier generations, so we inherently understand the value of consumer electronics in every aspect of our lives, including our vehicles, and can apply this to the workplace.
  9. Continue to be a risk-taker – an essential trait for driving innovation and growth.
  10. Above all, try new things and remain humble in accepting failures. Bring this attitude to your career and explore the breadth of opportunities that the auto industry offers, especially here in the beautiful and affordable settings of the Great Lakes. It will be a rewarding endeavor.
Husein Dakroub has worked at Visteon since 2012 and currently is a technical lead engineer. He has been involved in the design and development of automotive infotainment and telematics systems, architecting next-generation platforms, and delivering production systems for the connected vehicle. Husein has three published papers in the Society of Automotive Engineers and two patent-pending applications. He received a B.S.E in electrical engineering and a M.S.E in computer engineering from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. 

April 4, 2016

Visteon Arms Drivers with Gestures to Control Nearly Everything Onboard
By Oliver Kirsch, Innovation Project Manager

When a new technology is introduced in a vehicle cockpit, it usually requires a new set of controls. That means drivers must divert their attention from the road to manage yet another touch screen option or group of buttons. However, a recent advancement in gesture technology offers a seemingly magical way to control systems—from media players and ventilation to windows and glove boxes—in a manner that allows drivers to keep their eyes steadily on the road.

This new approach, called Time of Flight (ToF) Gesture Control, uses a 3-D sensor, a camera and infrared light from several LEDs to detect gestures made by the driver or passenger. Similar technology is employed in the Microsoft Kinect 3-D gaming camera and Google Tango motion tracking, and is now appearing in the automotive space.

Time of Flight refers to the physics on which the system is modeled. It essentially measures the distance between the sensor and the gesturing hand based on the time it takes the light to travel from the LED source to the object and back to the sensor (i.e., its time of flight).

Typically, the ToF camera is mounted in the vehicle headliner so it has a 3-D view of the center portion of the instrument panel and console. The sensor is exceptionally accurate in detecting the position of not just hands but also each finger. Much like the way sign language can be translated into words, ToF interprets finger, hand and arm motions or static hand poses to command various functions inside the car. The video below demonstrates how it all works.

With ToF, any surface, or even a plane in the air, can suddenly perform like a mechanical button or touch screen. By touching certain areas of the surface, the driver can activate infotainment and other systems. The surface itself is not issuing these commands; they are initiated by the 3-D sensor picking up the reflected infrared light and the associated processing unit.

ToF can also be programmed to allow the driver to perform one set of commands by touching a display and an entirely different set of operations by moving his or her finger in the air a few centimeters in front of the display. A driver in an adjacent lane might conclude that the ToF user was an orchestra conductor practicing for a concert as they raise an extended hand to increase the media player volume or lower their hand to make it pianissimo. The same gesture applied to the climate control increases or decreases the fan speed or temperature. A “stop” gesture pauses a function, while a hand wave overhead turns the dome lights on or off.

Images: upper left: Time of Flight camera - amplitude image
upper right: Time of Flight camera - distance image augmented with a feature overlay (segmented hand, finger lines and arm graph
lower left: Overhead view of 3-D point cloud of segmented hand
lower right: Gesture interaction in front of center information display

ToF further enables surfaces within the vehicle to act as virtual buttons. Any area within the infrared system’s line of sight can become a smart surface, activating a function with the touch of a finger.

The real magic of Time of Flight becomes evident when drivers use it to control objects that are well beyond arm’s reach. By opening a hand toward the glove box, its door will open. By pointing an outstretched arm toward the passenger-side window – it opens or closes.

Time of Flight technology is expected to significantly change the way drivers interact with their cars, opening new doors for human machine interaction. Similar to how finger swipes became intuitive for smartphone owners, Time of Flight gestures will become intuitive within the vehicle cockpit.

By the time the next generation of vehicles is designed in 2020, Time of Flight technology will likely be handing drivers a new way to command and control their vehicles more safely.

Oliver Kirsch applies over 20 years of automotive engineering experience to his current position, in which he investigates advanced camera technologies for interior applications with a focus on computer vision algorithms for Time of Flight based 3-D hand gesture recognition. Previously, he held roles in other areas of cockpit electronics including instrument clusters and head-up displays. Oliver earned a degree in electrical engineering from Bergische Universit├Ąt Wuppertal in Germany.

December 3, 2015

What Do Consumers Want? It Depends How They Feel
By Judy Blessing, Manager of Market and Trends Research, Visteon Europe

Consumers who have tried to choose exactly the right type of mobile phone, game console or fitness device for their particular needs understand how difficult the process can be. Think of all the factors that go into the decision: How easy is it to personalize? Will the primary use be a camera, navigation device or communicator? How convenient are the icons, input commands and gesture controls?

However, when people buy their most expensive mobile device—a new car—they usually have fewer choices in the cockpit. Designers and engineers need to ensure that the cockpit displays and human-machine interaction (HMI) in your vehicle are built to accommodate individual needs. For this reason, Visteon regularly probes consumer attitudes and preferences in product clinics across the globe, to elicit feedback on what they desire at a particular time in a given geography.

Through research, we learn not only how well a system functions but also how operating that system makes the user feel. We are interested in why people react differently to similar products, which helps us determine strengths and weaknesses.

Wanted:  Simple and Intuitive Controls

Consumers often value safety as most important when ranking vehicle technology, followed by controls that are simple to use and intuitive. Ultimately, they judge vehicle technologies based on what they know and like from the consumer electronics marketplace. In other words, consumers always compare what is in their cockpit to what is in their pocket.

But what people in one country may perceive as simple or intuitive often is far different from the perceptions of people in other nations. For example, Visteon studies have found:

  • Americans seek an intuitive experience like displays with brightly colored buttons, text-based controls with icons for reference, an overview layout of all available options, and a large interactive touch screen for interactive control.
  • Consumers in China, on the other hand, prefer neutral colors on the screen and icon-based controls with text for reference.
  •  In France, Germany and other European Union countries, consumers desire a master controller over touch screens and focused task content on the display, with minimal and muted colors.

More analysis is available in this online presentation.

Lessons from Consumer Research

Visteon incorporates these results when designing cockpit displays and controls, considering both the intuitive nature of the design and its practical benefits to consumers. 

Following are the top five lessons from recent research studies:

  1.  Expectations change dynamically. Expectations are formed from the overall consumer environment – particularly consumer electronics. Drivers expect a gesture-activated HMI will compare similarly to their gaming consoles at home. These expectations vary by geography and by the state of consumer electronics.
  2. Consider the user experience holistically.  Look at the entire experience – not only what the driver touches but what he or she feels when touching it, along with expectations of craftsmanship. The user experience always combines the practical with the emotional.
  3. The user experience is front- and back-end related. While the front end is the HMI – what the consumer sees and interacts with – the back end must be capable of supporting the experience the consumer anticipates. Systems must deliver simple and intuitive operations.
  4. User experience foundations are global, but must incorporate regional differences. Around the world, all consumers want safety, simplicity and intuitive controls, but they define these aspects differently. Flexibility must be considered when developing global platforms.
  5. Measuring the user experience is subjective. We can objectively measure interaction times and usability. Yet, how the system makes the consumer feel depends on his or her expectations and background. Therefore, a good deal of subjective research must be conducted with consumers, using pictures and other techniques, to discover common threads that may trigger the desired response.
Ideally, every product should be checked against consumer expectations for safety, ease of use, reliability, intuitive operation and its customization for each user’s individual concept of what it should be and do. Since those expectations can change as quickly as technology, it’s important to fully understand and stay ahead of trends.

Judy Blessing brings 17 years of research experience to her manager position in market and trends research. Her in-depth knowledge of all research methodologies allow her to apply the proper testing and analysis to showcase Visteon´s automotive intellect to external customers and industry affiliates, Judy holds a German University Diploma degree in marketing/ market research