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Continental has developed a Holistic Human-Machine Interface as a part of their Cockpit 2025 project.
Continental has developed a Holistic Human-Machine Interface as a part of their Cockpit 2025 project.
( Source: Continental)

HMI 5 Human-Machine Interface trends in cars today

Author / Editor: Jason Unrau / Erika Granath

The human-machine interaction (HMI) story is ever-evolving, especially in the automotive industry. How drivers and passengers interact with their vehicle differs from just a few years ago, and it will be very different in the future.

When you sit in the driver's seat of a well-equipped car today, buttons and screens dominate the dash, steering wheel, and instrument panel. Odds are that many of the features are new to you, either functionally or conceptually. However, it's designed for you to familiarize yourself with it fast and start using it naturally without much effort.

Ensuring that technology can be understood and used by almost anyone is central for engineers of next-gen vehicles. It goes by the term human-machine interface, or HMI.

What's a Human-Machine Interface?

According to Continental, entirely new cockpit designs are needed to fulfill the demands of future mobility. In a strategic foresight, Continental's experts have identified Holistic Human-Machine Interface to play a critical role in the future of cars.
According to Continental, entirely new cockpit designs are needed to fulfill the demands of future mobility. In a strategic foresight, Continental's experts have identified Holistic Human-Machine Interface to play a critical role in the future of cars.
(Source: Continental)

A human-machine interface can be described as any control that allows a person to connect to a machine, system, or device. To use the Oxford Dictionary definition of 'interface' may help clarify HMI further: "A point where two systems, subjects, organizations, etc. meet and interact." A second computing-related definition reads, "A device or program enabling a user to communicate with a computer."

HMI applies to infotainment screens, touchpads, navigation buttons, or even simple single-function controls. The human-machine interaction may or may not be tangible; rather, audible and actionable results are also included in HMI.

5 Human-Machine Interface trends in 2020

The definition leaves HMI nebulous and wide open to interpretation. These five trends in HMI for automotive purposes may help clarify ways in which humans and machines interact in cars.

Screens

One of the clearest examples of HMI in automotive is through screens and displays. In any vehicle, the occupants can manipulate the audio system's output by pressing a button on the screen to change radio stations, select input devices, explore navigation instructions, and more. Some systems like Fiat Chrysler Automotive's Uconnect 12.0 infotainment system, as well as Tesla's 15-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen, incorporate heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) controls into the screen also. Fully-customizable, fully-digital instrument cluster displays are also a great example of HMI in screens as steering wheel controls let you manipulate information on the cluster.

The industry is going towards an increasingly screen-based interior. More real estate will be occupied by infotainment screens as evidenced by Byton M-Byte's 48-inch wide display, and Ford's 15.5-inch screen in the mass-market Mach E electric SUV.

Voice Commands

A dominant technology in automotive applications is voice control. Experts forecast that by 2022, voice controls will be integral in 80 percent of in-vehicle HMIs. That doesn't account for voice recognition systems used in smartphones. Today, most HMIs use voice commands for convenience factors like controlling audio systems and placing and receiving phone calls.

As voice recognition technology advances, so do the applications. In the future, natural language commands will likely be capable of performing complex functions from adjusting follow distance in adaptive cruise control to autonomously taking a passenger to their destination without physical steering, braking, and acceleration input at all.

Haptic Touch

The science of touch is still essential for HMI in cars, even as voice commands take a higher place. Currently, haptic touch is the feeling of a phone's touchscreen or an infotainment screen that 'bumps' you back when you make a long press. Research is underway that will take haptics to new heights.

Gesture technology is already in use by BMW, where hand movements in the air are 'seen' by cameras to perform in-vehicle functions. Gesture control will certainly enter mainstream carmakers in some capacity. Taking it further, Ultrahaptics is working on technology to give the sensation of virtual touch response in the air using ultrasound.

Drive by Wire

HMI doesn't always have to be a grand, visible system. As early as the late '80s, drive-by-wire has been used for throttle control on cars rather than a mechanical throttle cable. Electric power steering has allowed for steering input absent a driver that allows for autonomy. Ford's Enhanced Active Park Assist uses this technology to help you in both parallel and perpendicular parking situations.

Future HMI in drive-by-wire and steer-by-wire systems automate vehicle controls. Rather than the constant go, stop, and steer motions a driver must do, commands to their machine alleviate the need for attentiveness and active participation.

Virtual Assistants

While virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Siri, and Amazon Alexa overlap with HMI voice commands, they serve a somewhat separate purpose in automotive. Rather than performing vehicle functions, virtual assistants act as a concierge for the driver through voice command and powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Virtual assistants can currently connect with the service department to schedule a maintenance appointment, add a reminder to your calendar, or make a reservation at your favorite restaurant.

In the future, you could be using a virtual assistant in your vehicle to hold a conversation or keep you company, suggest driving routes based on real-time traffic data, or recommend a new podcast based on your emotional and physical demeanor.

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