Issue: May 2014


Keeping drivers on the right track and with eyes on the road



by Jon Knox




Not too long ago car human machine interfaces (HMIs) were simple and easy to use with few features and clear functions. New and interesting user interaction concepts are emerging. But, with the growing complexity of features, today’s use experience has become increasingly intimidating. 

In this quickly evolving technological landscape the automotive industry is now tasked with solving the apparent contradiction of increasing complexity while reducing driver distraction in the interests of safety. Replacing paper maps and written directions with electronic GPS guides is one of the breakthroughs. With the introduction of the TomTom GO portable navigation device in 2004 drivers could easily go from Point A to B – without knowing where Point B was. TomTom subsequently acquired TeleAtlas, one of the few automotivegrade global digital map suppliers. Having control of the entire navigation value chain paved the way for the 2009 launch of Carminat TomTom for Renault, followed by Carminat TomTom LIVE in 2010, which was the first built-in connected navigation system available for less than 500 euros.

TomTom’s user interface design is based on the principles that products should be easy to use, intuitive, and not require a user manual. The experience built up through the supply of tens of millions of devices since 2004 is behind the latest range of consumer devices launched in 2013 in Europe, and most recently in the US. 

In an online webinar Cees van Dok talks about automotive companies offering a selection of features which only end up confusing customers. In the final webinar Jan-Maarten de Vries, Vice President of Product Management and Strategy at TomTom Automotive looked at the benefits of integrating multiple TomTom components, digital maps, navigation software and connected services. 

Automotive Industries asked van Dok to elaborate on his statement that many automotive OEMs offer navigation systems that “confuse and enrage”.

Van Dok: A common cause can be overall system complexity. Many In-Vehicle-Infotainment systems suffer from too many features that all compete for user attention. OEMs seem to be afraid to leave out features that only few customers may want. A second is quality and responsiveness of the user interface. Systems that react slowly to user input, or that require too much “work” from the user form another source of misery. Examples are on-board voice recognition that doesn’t always “understand” user input well or a search user interface that requires a step-by-step process rather than a single type-in box. Another source of frustration is related to the fact that many built-in systems feel “dated”. For people who are used to the rapid evolution of natural user interfaces on their personal devices, it feels the UI in the car got stuck in old interaction design conventions. 

AI: How does TomTom Automotive help minimize these problems? 

Van Dok: The TomTom UI is built on experience from the development of aftermarket navigation over many years. We focus on making our products as easy to use as possible. For example we pay most attention to the key use cases navigation has to fulfill and try to make those experiences as good and smooth as we can. Secondary and less important features are moved to lower levels in the UI so they don’t interfere with normal, daily use. Examples of ease are a great search interface where a single input field returns both addresses as well as POIs in a comprehensive and easy to read view. Another is the permanent display of frequently visited places on the map so it only requires a single tap on screen to drive to a common destination. 

AI: What are some of the factors that have to be taken into consideration in automotive HMI systems? 

Van Dok: Most important is that the system should support and reassure the driver and not distract. For navigation that means information should be concise, easy to read and consistent. Just a quick glance should be sufficient for the user to be able to take drive-centric decisions. Interaction while driving should be kept to an absolute minimum. For example, our UI provides a journey overview when a next instruction is still far away and it shows more information about where and how to drive when the user gets closer to an instruction point. At any time when the user glances at the screen it should show the most meaningful “up ahead” information without requiring any manual switching. 

AI: Please give us some more examples. 

Van Dok: There our map zoom behavior. Capacitive touch screens allow for fancy pinch and gesture based map zooming. But, whilst driving, this is a much too complex and distracting. That’s why we feel strongly about smart automatic zooming of the map. We include manual zoom buttons that behave in a smart way. For example when we zoom in on the 2D map, we render the actual position of the car on a side of the screen such that as much as possible of the route ahead can be displayed at that zoom level. Zoom level in 3D depends on the road class – when the car travels faster more of the road ahead is displayed than when driving on in-city streets and lower speeds. 

AI: Give us examples of how you had to rework a user interface. 

Van Dok: Our UI design and development teams work in an iterative process of conception, designing, building, drive testing and refining. All aspects of the design phase involve real customers and a lot of real world drive testing. Through our 52international groups of alpha and beta testers we gain a lot of input from the field, which helps us improve and hone a feature so that we’re sure it performs well and meets expectations before we release it to market. 

AI: How do you see HMI evolving in the automotive space? 

Van Dok: HMI will be a multi-screen car cockpit where the classic telematics cluster will lose its significance. I assume drivers are ultimately more interested to see information about what’s happening and relevant on the road ahead than what’s happening under the bonnet. Many features that are now brought to the user via an IVI system in the center stack or via Smartphone apps, will become prominent driver info presented front and center behind and above the steering wheel (driver-centric) and via auxiliary displays like HUD and screen elements embedded in for example rear view mirrors. We’ll move away from touch screens to new tactile controls that aren’t necessarily single purpose buttons and levers but also more generic steering wheel controls that enable switching, pointing and picking, eye tracking and also voice recognition as a supportive, secondary way to control the user interface. 

AI: What are some of the products at TomTom that have changed automotive related HMI? 

Van Dok: Renault R-Link is one of our more recent complete IVI systems. It has scored top of evaluation in an independent EU Usability Benchmarking report by SBD, an independent technical consultancy specializing in automotive technology. R-Link leads the ranking as the most user-friendly infotainment system with simplicity and sophistication of the interface. It fulfills the needs and expectations of volume brands owners for simple and intuitive interfaces and great usability at a low price tag  



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