posted 4 years ago

Motor Manufacturers Call In The Geeks

In-Car User Interfaces To Feature Third-Party Software

General Motors and Ford are encouraging third-party software developers to create programs for their in-car infotainment systems. This could expand and improve the functionality of the touch-screen interfaces that are becoming increasingly common. Developers could (subject to vehicle hardware) create software based on sensor data such as: top speed, acceleration, brake force, cornering force, wheel spin, and the interaction of the electronic stability program. This could then help a parent who lends their car to a teenager. How? Because it could monitor whether the motorist is careful. Hard acceleration and high g-force might suggest not. Action could then be taken such as confiscating the keys. Software could also prevent the vehicle starting beyond (say) midnight which should ensure the youngster is home at a sensible time. Equally, if the driver is responsible they could be allowed to use the vehicle more frequently. Developers could also create software that improves fuel consumption. It could reveal, for example, that a motorist spends to long at high engine revolutions before changing gear. There could be programs that keep children happy too. The possibilities are endless.

In-Car User Interfaces Far Too Complex

Increasing functionality is clearly worthwhile but there is a more pressing concern. Many in-car interfaces are complicated and some are extremely confusing. Let us consider a scenario. In the recent past, an experienced motorist could climb into any car and clear its steamy windscreen via three dials: airflow direction, airspeed and temperature. Easy, and it worked. It was also straightforward to choose pre-set radio stations by pressing 1, 2, and 3. But some cars are now so complex that people have to pour over manuals before they can operate even these basics features. Is that progress? Then, of course, there are advanced functions such as sat-nav, mobile phone connectivity, and user-defined preferences for the feel of the suspension, steering, throttle, and transmission. Whereas it is reasonable to spend some time learning to operate a car it should – for the most part – be easy. After all, the strength of an interface is not just what it enables people to do - but how easily it enables them to do it. Consider how straightforward it is to perform complex tasks on a Linux-based operating system compared to some of the mainstream alternatives. So, come on third party software developers. Make in-car user interfaces intuitive before adding the clever features. Millions of drivers would be eternally grateful.