“Feeling” safe on the road this summer

As part of our “Summer Adventures” blog series here on E2E, we’re putting a summertime spin on this blog post that originally appeared in 2013. Keep reading for more on how haptics can help keep you safe on the road this season.

Summer is the perfect time to venture out for a vacation, and for many of us, that means piling into the car for a road trip.

For passengers, it’s essential to keep boredom at bay during long drives. Your packing list may include a smartphone or a multimedia tablet, which can provide hours of fun with interactive gaming apps that beep, buzz and provide tactile feedback while you’re playing on the touchscreen.

But now, drivers may be able to enjoy a tablet-like experience too, as cars’ information and entertainment systems evolve. In-car user interfaces are finding inspiration from mobile devices so drivers can access vital information safely and easily while on the road.    

Figure 1: Touch-based controls provide tablet-like navigation and infotainment at your fingertips.

We can all think of a million scenarios where we use our mobile devices – even on vacation. Maybe you’re trying to find activities for each day or capture moments from your adventure. You pull out your smartphone or tablet to look up a cool new restaurant, search for a top sightseeing list or read hotel reviews. In any case, you’ve got all eyes (and probably ears and hands) on your mobile device. That makes it pretty easy to watch the screen as you swipe, pinch, scroll and tap your way through the menus to find the content you want.

Now let’s think back to the car that promises to behave like a tablet. Hmm, your eyes are on the road, hopefully you’ve got at least one hand on the wheel, and you’re trying to stay aware of the other vehicles on the road as you maneuver to get in the proper lane for your upcoming turn. Not exactly the same as that ‘tablet-like’ experience, right? 

However, there is a way to combine the tablet-like mobile app, media and connectivity experience with a user interface suitable for the unique challenges of the car.

Figure 2: Touch-enabled home screen example.

Haptic feedback is a technology that allows a touchscreen or other touch surface to provide you with tactile feedback, using vibrations generated by specialized ICs, such as the DRV2605 and DRV2667, and ERM or piezo actuators. Let’s look at an example. Figure 2 shows a crude example of what the “Home” screen on a touch-based center console might look like.

The feedback, or effects, can change dynamically depending on the button pressed or knob turned. By using these haptic effects, the driver can control and navigate the infotainment system by touch, while minimizing the time spent looking down at the screen. 

Figure 3: Haptic effect mapping to the touch-screen panel.

Figure 3 shows a diagram of this screen illustrating how different haptic effects (“buzz”, “click”, “bump”, etc.) can map to different regions on the touchscreen. Without looking at the display, you can drag your finger along the screen, locating the appropriate control by feel – each region would trigger the appropriate “Find” effect. When you find the correct control, you can select it by tapping or increasing the pressure on the screen, which triggers the “Select” effect to confirm the input. All while keeping your eyes on the road. And each system ‘sub-function’ (audio, navigation, vehicle control) can have its own dynamic haptic map. 

As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless! The creativity of the automotive industry’s talented user interface designers will guide the direction of touchscreen center consoles. So next time you’re thinking about that ‘tablet-like’ experience, don’t forget about how it can help drivers stay safe on the road while enjoying a summer getaway.

Additional haptics resources:

Heading out (or staying in) on more than one adventure this summer? Discover more options for summer fun in our “Summer Adventures” blog series:

  • This is a very bad idea. Cars have become increasingly "rolling entertainment centers" instead of conveyances to get from place to place safely. All the touch screen controls and features take the driver's attention away from driving the car. Modern digital devices are a nightmare to use-- designed by computer people making use of sub-directories, push buttons instead of turning knobs, etc.

    Example: Pioneer car radio-- incomprehensible collection of small cryptically- labeled buttons, a large round "multifunction" control that is a four-quadrant switch, and a digital display. The designer of this radio obviously never tried to actually use it on a rough road. Trying to push the right button or the multifunction control in the right direction as your hand bounces up and down is exasperating.

    Frankly, I would be better served by an old- style car radio that had two round control knobs and a dial or digital frequency display-- on/off volume on the left and tuning on the right. No need to take your eyes off the road-- the operation is instinctive and there is no need to study a sixty page instruction manual. Add a slot for a CD and you have a device that fulfills 95% of what I need; the remainder is satisfied by my smart phone.

    I don't want a computer with wheels.