IAV has designed the cockpit of the future for a Chinese OEM

An HMI for China

Digitalization and autonomous driving are changing the user interfaces in vehicles. However, cultural differences also play an important role in new HMI concepts. Timm Kellermann, managing director of IAV’s consulting subsidiary consulting4drive, and Marcus Heinath, head of IAV’s UX, HMI & Instrument Cluster department, report on the challenges and opportunities involved in HMI development for the Chinese market.

Why are you thinking about new HMI concepts?

Kellermann: Because everything is changing as a result of digitalization. Modern cars with new displays and operating concepts are just the beginning. We ask ourselves how concepts have to change. What experience will thrill customers in the future? What are the technology drivers on the market? This is where consulting4drive’s and IAV’s competencies complement each other perfectly: we are particularly good as regards strategies, concepts, and requirement management, while Marcus Heinath’s IAV team offers a wealth of practical experience from various projects and knows exactly what works in the field. If you combine the two, you can develop a truly pioneering and human-friendly HMI for the digital era.

Heinath: We already have specific ideas about new HMI concepts and have discussed these with a variety of customers. This has shown that digitalization and autonomous driving are the two most important drivers in HMI evolution. In the future, the systems will also have to independently adapt more extensively to their users and pro-actively respond to their preferences and behavior patterns as well as taking environmental variables inside and outside of the vehicle into account. And another aspect also plays a central role in this: the digital user cosmos. The majority of users are at home in the Apple or Android world and are characterized by this. Future HMIs will have to adapt to these preferences, which are acquired outside of the vehicle, and give consideration to the operating habits that have been learned. The smartphone world should be reflected in the vehicle.

»In China, for example, people would like an avatar that welcomes them when they enter the vehicle, that anticipates their wishes as a 'companion', and that supports them.«

Marcus Heinath — Head of IAV's UX, HMI & Instrument Cluster department

Is there a solution that works in all markets?

Kellermann: Probably not, because we have to adapt operation to what people are already familiar with and use in that locality. In China, practically everybody uses WeChat and Alibaba. Customers’ expectations are therefore influenced by user interfaces that are completely different to those in Germany and Europe, for example.

Cars will change significantly over the coming years. How can you determine today what customers would like in the future?

Kellermann: To attempt to answer this question, we surveyed around 1,500 people from all age groups and from urban and rural environments in China. But we didn’t only want to know which specific functions they would like in the future – instead, we were interested in how they live and what habits they have. How do they drive? How do they navigate? What do they do in the car? For example, the Chinese like to eat while driving, which affects the HMI and safety, of course.

Heinath: Other questions that are extensively dependent on the culture can also be asked, though. How important are data protection and privacy? Do customers attach value to prestige or do they prefer understatement? We used all of this information to determine a list of requirements for the design and functions of the HMI.

And what did you learn from that for China?

Heinath: In China, for example, people would like an avatar that welcomes them when they enter the vehicle, that anticipates their wishes as a ‘companion’, and that supports them. To implement that, you have to collect a lot of data and constantly keep learning with artificial intelligence – whereby the learning process can also take place externally in a cloud, not just in the car. Data protection is, of course, an important topic around the globe for us at IAV, even if many people in China apparently take comparatively little notice of this aspect.

Kellermann: Such a companion could be a mobility assistant that pro-actively helps the user to plan a journey, regardless of whether it is undertaken in one’s own vehicle or with public transport, via a cell phone, watch or tablet. At present, there is no such service that genuinely supports people well and consistently in this. It should anticipate people’s wishes and reduce stress while driving without being annoying. However, AI can also learn entirely practical things such as adapting intelligent seats with more than 20 adjustment options to the needs of the driver, for example. Pro-active adjustment of the air conditioning and ambiance or assisted driving are also conceivable.

»In the future, the same vehicle will present itself slightly differently to each user. As yet, no series production vehicle can offer this flexibility and self-learning individualization.«

Timm Kellermann — managing director of IAV's consulting subsidiary consulting4drive

Why are the Asian manufacturers so active in this regard?

Kellermann: Many manufacturers in Europe and the USA believe that their current vehicles are outfitted with a matured HMI – which is true to a certain extent, of course. However, some people in Europe still have very traditional needs in terms of user interfaces and functions. The case in Asia is different. There, people interact much more intensively with their smartphones, and their entire lives are permeated by digital services to a far greater extent than here – for payment, for instance.

The Asian manufacturers want and have to take this into account when developing their vehicles. After a period of time, we are likely to experience a similar trend in Europe and the USA as well. But even then, we have to retain a certain degree of flexibility, because people will also continue to carry out the same things in different ways in the future. This means that, in the future, the same vehicle will present itself slightly differently to each user. As yet, no series production vehicle can offer this flexibility and self-learning individualization.

Why should a customer come to IAV to develop a new HMI concept?

Heinath: Because we have all of the expertise for such innovative and series development projects in-house: design, technology, and business models. And we can implement everything on site together with our customers – in this case, in China for China. We are represented there, in Shanghai and Beijing, with our own engineering locations and more than 100 IAV developers. We have over 20 years of local project experience and employees on the ground who are thoroughly familiar with the market and the conditions there. Because simply adapting the language in the HMI to the respective country is not enough. We have to continuously refine our understanding of culture and people’s needs to be able to offer customers an HMI experience with genuine added value – an experience that links the world of the vehicle to the outside world.

The interview was published in automotion 01/2020, the automotive engineering magazine of IAV. Here you can order the automotion free of charge.

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