Human-Machine Interface Benchmark platform: Comparing HMI operating concepts
The menus of infotainment systems are multi-layered and branched. The development service provider Deutsche Automotive films every single menu page and provides benchmarks for developers and designers.
Do you navigate with your mobile phone even though your car has a navigation system? Many car drivers prefer to rely on the maps and real-time information of their smartphones. Google's data is usually more up-to-date and precise than the information stored in the car.
The phone is also often easier to use: First, because we use it more often than the systems in the car. On the other hand, because the menus and functions of infotainment systems are often nested and complicated. Poor operating concepts are delivered over many years and only improved with a facelift or model change.
Almost every vehicle brand has its visual appearance and operating concept for the respective displays. This not only makes operation more difficult for drivers but also makes it difficult for experts to maintain an overview. Developers at automobile manufacturers and their system suppliers often lack the resources for good benchmarking. Dirk Beer, founder and managing director of Deutsche Automotive Software, keeps hearing this in conversations with his customers. "On Youtube, there are only shaky mobile phone pictures and advertising from the manufacturer," he says.
Screens: The HMI Benchmark Platform
This need gave rise to the idea of "Screens", a benchmark platform that represents the most innovative HMIs (Human-Machine-Interface). For screens, the team of the development service provider films every single menu page of the infotainment system and creates a structure tree from it. Besides, Beers employees record a catalog of application cases such as the displays of the lane departure warning system when crossing the road markings.
According to Beer, many OEM requirements have now been incorporated into this catalog. The so-called use cases form a second module of the screens database. As an example, Beer cites a Bluetooth phone call in the car: "What happens if I get out and back in again? Does the car manage to transfer the call to the phone and pair the phone again when I get in?
Up to eight cameras record all displays, the control buttons, and the vehicle environment - both when the car is stationary and while driving. Each car thus collects around 15 hours of video material that can be searched to the second. "We observe the 40 most important car manufacturers in the world and focus on the most innovative HMI concepts," Beer describes the selection process. Screens is aimed both at visual and asset designers, who are responsible for symbols and graphics and at interaction designers, who design the operating concepts.
Radical strategy change
The focus of the development service provider is now on this area: Deutsche Automotive Software develops operating concepts for instrument clusters and infotainment systems. When Dirk Beer went into business for himself in 2010, the focus was still on engine and transmission development. This was followed in 2015 by a turn to software development. "Meanwhile I am the last engineer in my company," Beer explains the radical change in strategy.
On Youtube, there are only blurred mobile phone pictures and advertisements from the manufacturers.
Beer currently employs media computer scientists, software developers, computer linguists, and psychologists. This covers an area of the future because digital services and networking in and with the vehicle would not only become more important, but "every manufacturer would like to maintain his identity via the displays". Because many automobile manufacturers tend to implement this goal more moderately than well, there is a very high need to look for best-practice applications.
According to Beer, screens are very well received on the market, so Deutsche Automotive urgently wants to expand capacities in this area. A location in China is to be opened in mid-2020. Later, a subsidiary in the USA is to follow - which, according to Beer, is much easier to establish, but the Chinese market has a much higher priority. All in all, Beer hopes to be able to include 52 vehicles per year in screens by the end of next year. The development service provider is currently creating around 20 models.
Model comparison planned
In a next step, screens will have a comment function and an extended comparison function: Today, all images of a vehicle can be compared synchronously - in the future, a comparison between two models will be possible. In addition, Beer is currently negotiating with potential cooperation partners. He wants to integrate customer feedback statistics into the database.
Beer is particularly excited about Byton's HMI concept: He hopes to receive a vehicle for analysis before the end of this year. If this works, many developers will probably use screens to take a close look at the first vehicle developed around a digital platform.
This article was first published in German by Automobil Industrie.