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Rinspeed Oasis

Opinion: How the ‘digital cockpit’ will improve user experience, both now and in autonomous vehicles

By Arvin Baalu, vice president of the integrated digital cockpit platform group at Harman International

As the automotive industry continues on the road to autonomous vehicles, user experience will be a decisive purchase factor.

Harman believes that key to achieving positive user experiences will be an integrated digital cockpit that ensures the “driver” does not feel redundant as the car begins to take control. ‎

We are increasingly seeing computer-controlled intelligence in the car as we move towards fully autonomous vehicles.

It’s a new era for today’s motorists and it can be an unsettling one. As intelligent systems take over they run the risk of alienating the driver-turned-user, making them feel useless and surplus within the car environment.

User experience (UX) and systems that ensure a driver feels connected and in control within the environment will be important in overcoming this potential disconnect within the “Passenger Economy”.

For too long the car’s cockpit components have been disjointed. With increasing display digitisation, more safety and entertainment features – often with multiple controllers – it can create a complex, confusing and fragmented experience.

UX is becoming the decisive brand factor for original equipment manufacturers and will be key to the purchase decision, so ensuring an efficient user interface (UI) is essential.

According to a study by Bitkom, 86 percent of respondents believe that by 2025 consumers will take more care to ensure the UI in their car is compatible with their smartphones. This also illustrates the important role connectivity will play.

Rinspeed Oasis at CES
Interior of the Rinspeed Oasis concept car at CES

UX and UI designers and engineers must address the ways that drivers consume in-vehicle information for the best possible experience.

At Harman, we have developed a next-generation Digital Cockpit Platform that is capable of merging critical elements of the connected car while keeping ease of deployment and management front of mind.

The compute platform integrates multiple domains and combines them into a seamless, streamlined interface.

It encompasses the central infotainment system, instrument cluster, critical displays showing speed, coolant temperature and other crucial details, advanced driver assistant systems (ADAS), audio and sound management, lighting, e-mirrors, navigation, drive assist and even an intelligent personal assistant.

No longer is it about all these elements in isolation; they must be combined seamlessly in a streamlined interface, providing a safe, user-friendly and cost-effective solution.

The system leverages technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, voice-based controls, intelligent connectivity and cloud-based computing.

With voice-based technology we’re enabling passengers to complete complex tasks at ease using audio commands.

Rinspeed Oasis hand over procedure
Rinspeed Oasis hand-over procedure

For example, if you forget to schedule a meeting you can request one via voice-control.

Harman partners with cloud-based computing partners, such as Microsoft, so your personal assistant in the car can access your calendar and send a meeting request to the chosen recipients and update your calendar accordingly.

When we reach the stage of fully-autonomous vehicles, Morgan Stanley estimates that productivity gains could reach $507 billion annually in the US.

We are keen to make sure that the time in the car can be productive. And while the driver is still in control, we want this to be possible without affecting safety.

We demonstrated what the Digital Cockpit Platform could support at consumer electronics and technology show CES in January with the Rinspeed Oasis concept car (main picture).

It shows what functionality a fully-autonomous car could have, enabled by Harman’s Life-Enhancing Intelligence Vehicle Solution.

This is a suite of technologies to improve connectivity, whether that be between the car and home or the car and office.

Preferences and data are shared through the Internet of Things, with these capabilities also meaning that the system can be updated over-the-air as automotive advancements speeds ahead at a rapid rate.

Although it’s interesting to think about how we will interact with the car as we see higher levels of autonomy on the road, the backbone of these future systems is equally as useful to the cars of today.

Each day in the US, around nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

It’s therefore extremely important that we work towards a UI that allows you to perform desired tasks safely and displays critical, appropriate information while humans are still in control of vehicles.

We are working with manufacturers on UX for the cars of today and tomorrow, and despite having only launched the Digital Cockpit Platform in January, we are already developing a solution for a European OEM in one of its upcoming passenger car models.

For both those developing the technologies and for the consumers set to use them, it’s a very exciting time in the automotive industry.

Ensuring that drivers – and in the future passengers – have the best possible experience is a challenge and opportunity that Harman is relishing.

By Arvin Baalu, vice president of the integrated digital cockpit platform group at Harman International
Arvin Baalu

About the author: Arvin Baalu is vice president of the integrated digital cockpit platform group at Harman International