Blog: Beyond Imaginable – Future Automotive Design Concepts
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Blog: Beyond Imaginable – Future Automotive Design Concepts

Blog post by Hasse Sinivaara, Technologist at TactoTek


Designers constantly seek new solutions; different approaches to styling and usability that will delight customers and reflect their unique vision. IMSE solutions offer new possibilities that expand and enrich designers’ palettes with thin, conformal electronics easily integrated throughout a vehicle.

Since the advent of electronic controls, automotive interior styling design has followed very traditional approach for user interfaces and controls, both in terms of the structure of parts and the physical buttons, knobs and sliders that serve as the human-machine interfaces (HMIs). Only recently, in the 2010’s, were these traditional mechanical controls augmented with center console/dash mounted touch displays and the virtual instrument clusters.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, say 1967. Meet the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham—a car size of an ocean-going cruise liner (and my daily driver for quite some time in the 2000s). This land yacht has very distinctive body lines and all of the bells and whistles available at that time. Let’s take a peek into the ‘user interface’ from driver’s perspective: headlight switch located in the lower dash, left of the steering wheel, as is the washer and wiper control knob. The turn signal control arm is on the left side in the steering column, and the gear shifter is column mounted for right hand operation. Power window controls are mounted on the door panel, including a master control available to the driver. The radio and 8-track tape player (pre-dating cassette tapes, much less CDs and MP3s) in the middle of the dash to the right of the instrument cluster. Climate control in the lower instrument panel. Architecturally that general ‘user interface’ design has been the mainstream across the automotive industry for some 40 years, and today some modern cars share much of the same switch layout in 2018—well, the column shifter has been updated with paddle shifters and 8-track radio with touch screen IVI!

With the introduction of touch screens the industry has philosophically replicated the smart phone and tablet analogy into vehicles, and for good reason: a generation of drivers, and passengers, expect the simple, sophisticated style of interaction and control offered by consumer electronics. With touch screens options are limitless and can include multiple layers of UI that pack in all kinds of capabilities. That benefit is also their great weakness: center console/dash mounted display screens require visual focus attention and increase driver distraction if used while driving.

Using smart surfaces, designers have a new solution for delivering electronic function and styling that consumers want in a way that harmonizes with the design objectives and supports intuitive interactions. Here are a few examples.

First, IMSE enables you to create completely new shapes and forms with seamless UI function integration. Reviewing concept car interiors from the past 10 years, the overall interior design has been about sleek lines, graceful contours and luxury materials with subtle visible technology. But in a production car the design has to scale back in order to compromise between the design and technology, often sacrificing your styling intent. Tactotek’s smart surface technology complements your award-winning design with an ergonomically positioned and intuitive UI that can be economically mass produced. You don’t need to turn your design into a Swiss cheese as engineers about make holes for switch pods, add flat surfaces to host mechanical switches, and take away precious cabin volume to reserve extra depth for connectors and wiring bundles. Without Tactotek IMSE technology inspired design is diluted by legacy technology constraints—bye bye awards. If you can design a thin interior panel, you can design an IMSE part. IMSE solutions are integrated within the molded structure of the 3D surface, and our electronics follow the native 3D contours, whether that surface is plastic, wood, or metal. Forget those flat surfaces; you can realize your future concepts in today’s production design.

Second, we challenge you to think about the best design for simple, intuitive and functional UI, including where those controls are optimally positioned for each vehicle occupant. Adding more to UI is easy with touch screen SW, but creating simple yet functional UI takes lot more effort and sophistication—the optimal design is not when there’s nothing left to add, it’s when there is nothing remaining that can be removed. This resonates well with those concept car interior designs where being subtle is one key design factor.

We can start this process with some thought experiments. For example, think of your driving and traveling in a car. What are the essential functions that you use 95% of the time? Just the essential ones, and those that really matter to you.

As we take this experiment beyond our personal perceptions and priorities, expect to see a pivot in perspectives based on age demographics: Millenials and their children are much more digital-natives than previous generations. They grew up with touch screen instead of rotary dial or touch tone land line phones. For these generations, a capacitive touch interface, and one that doesn’t mechanically vibrate or pulse, is not only completely natural, it’s expected, as are gestural interfaces. This consumer base is large, and growing faster than any other segment..

UI isn’t only about touch—illumination is integral part of the solution for dynamic, adaptive styling, as well as locating controls and confirming user actions. In most IMSE HMI designs illumination style and include various dynamic effects. Transparent or translucent plastic is often used in the IMSE structure and serves as an integral light distribution medium. Ambient and halo light effects are easily achieved. With software you can define dynamic light effects that can be selected based on preference, activated by driving style, or even paired to media.

Another hot topic today is ‘hidden-until-lit’ feature, or ‘dead front’, ‘black panel’, ‘dark front’—the kid has many names. Regardless of the name, it means that controls, icons, and other elements are invisible until they are active. This effect is often included in a black surface, but it also applies to other surface colors and materials—including plastic, wood, leather, and more. Only when the lights turn on, such as with a gesture-activated proximity sensor, the surface comes alive and becomes a fully-functional user interface.

Are you ready to win some future design awards?

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