In recent years, touchscreens, handwriting recognition, and gesture control have been gradually taking the roles of conventional mechanical buttons and switches in the car – to the detriment of road safety. After all, controlling the navigation system, the on-board computer menu, or the radio is a distraction. To overcome this, Bosch has showcased smart cockpit technology that let drivers put their full attention on driving without the need to let their eyes off the road at CES 2018, in Las Vegas.
“We are uncluttering the cockpit. The more complex the technology in modern vehicles, the simpler and more intuitive control systems need to be,” says Dr. Steffen Berns, the president of Bosch Car Multimedia. Artificial intelligence helps transform the human-machine interface (HMI) into a command center that thinks ahead.
“Initial functionalities with artificial intelligence feed valuable information into the HMI about the driver, the vehicle, and the surroundings. That enables proactive adjustment of displays and controls to any given driving situation,” Berns says. Bosch also draws on this information for the development of automated driving. Here too, HMI is the core element that allows optimal interplay between people and vehicles.
According to Allianz Center for Technology, 63% of drivers in Germany operate their navigation systems while driving, 61% switch through radio stations, and 43% browse through complicated menus on their on-board infotainment systems, and it’s not surprising that distractions like these are among the most frequent causes of accidents.
“Our job is to make HMI (Human-Machine Interface) a reliable companion in every situation,” Berns says. At the heart of the HMI is a voice-controlled assistant that responds to natural speech and can even understand dialects.
Thanks to natural language understanding (NLU), drivers can talk to the assistant Casey as they would with a passenger. Another virtue of Casey is her ability to think ahead. Drawing on artificial intelligence, she can learn to predict likely destinations depending on the time of the day; or if she is asked to switch on the radio, she knows the driver’s preferences, such as listening to the news in the mornings and music in the evenings.
We perceive 90% of our sensory input through our eyesight which means that as drivers, we need important information directly in out field of vision at the right time. And with digital cockpits now taking main stage in the car’s cockpit, this means more than simply keeping an eye on traveling speed, engine rpm and driving range at a time, which the smart algorithms are capable of learning filter and prioritise on content that matter.
For example, if the roads are slippery, drivers immediately get a warning signal directly in their field of vision, while less crucial information, such as the current radio station, is switched to another display that helps keep the driver concentrated on the road, and when it comes to operating infotainment and other creature comforts while driving have a decisive drawback: the driver has to look to enter commands accurately.
In human evolution, speed did not play an important role to our survival, which means travelling at speeds above 45km/h exceeds of our physiological top speed, therefore, driving a vehicle requires high levels of concentration and quick reaction times, which is also why Formula 1 drivers train to have far quicker reaction times than an average person. Traveling at speed of 50km/h, the car will travel 30 meters while the driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds, and at 120 km/h that distance will double to more than 60 metres – at this point its like driving blindfolded.
“Car displays with haptic feedback are going to catch on. They allow easier operation of all manner of functionalities – for example radio and phone functions – faster, simpler, and, most importantly, safer,” Berns says. The keys displayed on the touchscreen feel just like real buttons. The haptic display thus conveys the feeling that the user is adjusting the volume using a real slide control. As a result, drivers can keep their eyes on the road for longer.
One consequence of the advanced cockpit technology is the increased demands on processing power, wiring, and the architecture of on-board networks – much like a personal computer on wheels. This upward trend is apparent in current production vehicles with as many of 5, 10, or 15 electronic control units running displays and electronic devices. And to show relevant information on all displays requires more processing power.
In the future, Bosch will run the entire HMI through a cockpit computer and will integrate more functionalities in a single central processor. That will enable the convergence and synchronization of the infotainment system, the instrument cluster, and other displays so that any given information can be orchestrated, managed, and displayed anywhere in the vehicle at any given time.
“It gives car drivers and passengers virtually unlimited possibilities for adjusting the air conditioning, controlling the navigation system, or changing radio stations, from anywhere in the vehicle,” Berns says.
In addition, reducing the number of control units also frees up valuable installation space, lowers vehicle weight, and shortens the time needed for the development of new vehicles. And, in the future, over-the-air updates will ensure that the cockpit computer and hence the entire HMI is kept up to date with the same simple process used for smartphones.