The science of automotive interaction takes on greater significance in vehicles like the Audi grandsphere concept.
How we interact with our cars has changed tremendously in recent years, but that automotive interface is set to change even more as autonomous driving takes a hold.
27 October, 2021
In other words, instead of people adapting to the technology, the technology adapts to them
The days of jumping into a vehicle and just driving are long gone. As technology advances, so too does the way in which we interact with the vehicle and its ever-increasing array of systems. This interface has been with us for years – from touch screens to voice control – but as technologies such as autonomous driving are introduced, so too the interaction between ‘user’ and vehicle will also change enormously.
So what exactly defines a good user interface design for vehicles that push the boundaries, like the Audi grandsphere concept? According to interface designers, Xenia Sichwardt and Bartos Scharmach, it’s all about being ‘human centred’ and ultimately intuitive.
“It’s very simple – the design must be human-centred. In other words, instead of people adapting to the technology, the technology adapts to them,” says Scharmach. “Human-centred design means focusing first and foremost on our customers’ wishes. Whatever a system’s purpose, it must always respond to the needs of the people in the vehicle. They tell the car what they want to do and it then proposes a range of options to meet their wishes.”
So what if you were to apply this to a vehicle like Audi’s vision of the future, the grandsphere?
“Say the users want to relax, then the car must perform all the necessary operations to make that possible,” says Scharmach.
“That’s why one thing we did was to dispense with a static menu for the Audi grandsphere concept’s user interface in favour of a context-sensitive one. So if, for instance, the occupants indicate that they want to relax, the car not only offers them the option of watching a movie or listening to relaxing music but also suggests taking a more soothingly scenic route through the countryside.”
“Smartphone manufacturers are always the main frame of reference for user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design,” offers Xenia Sichwardt. “What sets our UI and UX apart from what you get on a smartphone is that they are not confined to just one surface. Ours unlock new design possibilities in the car’s interior. That’s an incredibly exciting prospect because it means we can merge material choices, architecture and interface design. It’s impossible to replicate that kind of user experience on conventional tech devices,” she says.
The approach of autonomous driving asks more questions of how people will interact with their vehicle, something the grandsphere addresses with its unique approach to mobility.
“What will customers do when they’re no longer actively driving the car? Whichever way you look at the answer, it changes almost everything for us,” says Scharmach of the future.
What sets our UI and UX apart from what you get on a smartphone is that they are not confined to just one surface
By using projections instead of traditional displays, it becomes possible to devote the entire vehicle interior to creating occupant experiences
“As designers, we need to carve out new on-board experiences beyond driving. Our role has evolved from shaping a driver-oriented cockpit into designing a space-oriented interior. The dashboard is no longer the focal point. Instead, everything in the car – the sides, the headliner, the floor – all command equal attention. To put it in a nutshell – when designing a vehicle like the Audi grandsphere that may one day be capable of autonomous driving, we have the opportunity to increasingly rethink and redesign interiors as living spaces where individuals have the freedom to choose their activities.”
This means that by using projections instead of traditional displays, it becomes possible to devote the entire vehicle interior to creating occupant experiences.
Frameless design – interfaces that aren’t contained within set dimensions or tied to a specific position – was very important to us in the Audi grandsphere,” says Xenia Sichwardt. “Without those restrictions, you are free to display information wherever you like or, more importantly, wherever users want it.”
Of course that’s not to say that traditional controls and dials are gone completely, but in the grandsphere, even their operation has gone hi-tech. For example, the ‘MMI touches response’ developed especially for grandsphere relies on a combination of eye tracking and gesture control to allow occupants to use controls that are too far away to reach once the car is driving autonomously and they have reclined their seats. The user is not actually touching anything, but they can see that the rotary dial is nevertheless moving in response to their gesture.
Adapting to all of these emerging technologies and the change in the way we will use the vehicle in the future requires a quantum shift in how the whole design concept is viewed says Xenia Sichwardt.
“We draw inspiration from other cultures. For this project, we borrowed primarily from traditional Japanese painting and its design principle, which states that “the empty space embraces the image”. Turning our approach to design on its head in this way proved very inspiring. Rather than overload the display area with information, we pared things down to the bare necessities and gave it lots of breathing space, which in turn accentuates the meaning of the message. At Audi, we always strive for a simplicity that is, by its very nature, elegant.”
We draw inspiration from other cultures. For this project, we borrowed primarily from traditional Japanese painting and its design principle
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