The autonomous car is more than just a blue-sky dream that’s still some way off in the distant future; it’s already happening.
While companies like Google and Volvo have been testing autonomous cars on public roads for some years, now the first self-driving taxi service has been launched in Singapore. It is surely only a matter of a couple of years before these vehicles are made available for purchase by consumers, with Tesla already taking incremental steps that are making semi-autonomous driving available to the masses.
And of course, the cars of tomorrow are being designed today. Every aspect of them, including the way they interface with their occupants. When you take away the need for a driver to keep their full attention on the road, you change the the playing field for UI/UX design.
What does it mean for the digital cockpit when your car can take care of getting you from A to B safely, and on the quickest available route, all on its own? When it’s OK for you to be completely distracted, perhaps even looking the other way from the direction in which you’re traveling? Do we need the classic instrument cluster at all? Is that information completely secondary to our infotainment requirements? Already we expect our cars to seamlessly connect to our digital devices, our phones and tablets, our MP3 players. What if we combine that with the car’s ability to sense everything about the world around them?
If your car knows your browsing habits from its connection to your phone, and that you happen to be an avid shoe shopper, might it alert you to an upcoming Jimmy Choo retail outlet? Or if you’re a keen fisherman, that perfect trout lake you’re about to pass? Pass a house for sale? Pop up the listing details, maybe even take a virtual tour before deciding whether it’s worth leaving the car for a closer look. Not sure whether or not to take the scenic route? Preview some of the breathtaking (or not so breathtaking) views before making the choice. Feeling peckish? Check out the menus of your upcoming eating options before selecting the one that appeals most. Your car will do the rest.
The possibilities are endless, but one thing’s for sure: all of this information needs an HMI design that can offer a deeply satisfying and enjoyable experience, not an information-overloaded nightmare. So how do designers present that data in a way that’s intuitive, not inconvenient; accessible, not aggravating? Today, it may be a heads-up display; tomorrow, who knows? A lenticular display that shows different information to the driver and the front-seat passenger? Perhaps a hologram (“Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi!”)?
Whatever the solution, you need the ability to create it without the restraints of traditional displays and disjointed design processes that lose all of the subtle nuances you crafted by the time they reach the production stage. You need the freedom to be able to craft an interface that embraces the driver’s relationship with their vehicle. One that makes them feel deeply connected to their car, not irritated by it. After all, it’s all about the journey.