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Get the message, driver?



Vibrating steering wheels, flashing displays and beeps in the cockpit – driver assistance systems communicate in all sorts of different ways. Isn’t all this information confusing for drivers? Guido Meier-Arendt, Principal Expert for Human-Machine Inter-faces at Continental, highlights the vital importance of cars communicating clearly.

Guido Meier-Arendt is Principal Expert for Human-Machine Interfaces and Ergonomics in Continental’s Interior division.


Guido Meier-Arendt, today’s drivers are bombarded with everything from driver assistance system alerts to messages from Facebook friends. Isn’t there a danger that too much information could compromise safe driving?

You’re absolutely right, the volume of infor- mation in our cars is growing constantly. This makes it particularly important to develop smart solutions which ensure that interactions between drivers and their vehic-les are both user-friendly and above all safe. Once we have ascertained exactly which information the driver requires in a given dri-ving situation, we then need to package and communicate it in a user-friendly manner.


How do you do this?

ou have to combine information from different driver assistance systems. You don’t need a separate vehicle-user interface for every single system. For instance, we look for clever ways of combining adaptive cruise control and lane control information to enable intelligent priority management. The driver should only receive the information that they need in order to drive safely at the current point in time – no more and no less. Driver assistance systems employ an inform-warn-intervene escalation strate-gy in which the relevant information for the current escalation level is communicated to the driver multimodally – visually, acousti-cally and haptically.


Couldn’t this be dangerous? What hap-pens if drivers who are used to the interac-tion system of one particular make of car suddenly find themselves confronted with different feedback systems when driving  a vehicle built by another manufacturer?

That is a very valid point and is of course something we are working on all the time. The solution is to develop self-explanatory human-machine interface designs which don’t do anything unfamiliar that could con-fuse drivers accustomed to a different form of communication. The car must communi-cate clearly – every relevant system in the vehicle must send messages that are unam-biguous and easy to understand. Whenever the steering wheel vibrates, the corresponding information must immediately appear on the display or there must be a voice message warning the driver that a lane departure is imminent, for example. 


What are the biggest challenges in designing human-machine interfaces, or ‘HMI solutions’?

Creating attractive user experiences. The challenges are particu-larly apparent in the field of automated driving. On the one hand, you have to meet the basic ergonomic requirements – for instance, the system must ensure that the driver is duly prepared to resume control of the vehicle. At the same time, however, you need to create an attractive experience that allows users to seamlessly re-sume the communication or entertainment activity of their choice during automated driving. User-centered design is key to creating solutions that reflect users’ needs.


What exactly do you mean by user-centered design?

It’s no good having a new system or new technology that looks great on paper if the interaction with the driver isn’t implemented in a user-friendly manner. We need solutions that can be operated simply and effectively, delivering a high standard of usability toge-ther with an enhanced user experience.


What part does HMI play in Continental’s vision of zero road accidents?

It has a vital part to play. The goal is always to improve traffic safety by ensuring genui-nely intuitive collaboration between user and vehicle. At Continental, we have esta-blished a “search field” explicitly devoted to optimizing the human-machine interface in line with users’ needs. We are also increa-singly adopting a user-centered design ap-proach to ensure that our innovations and future technologies are precisely tailored to users’ wishes and needs. This user-centered approach is in fact critical to the develop-ment and design of modern vehicles, which makes it key to the achievement of our Vision Zero.

Intelligent cockpit concepts will become increasingly important in a future where cars drive autonomously. Photo: Continental


Continental’s Integrated Cockpit System, which recently won the German Design Council’s Innovation Of The Year award, features large curved glass surfaces with multiple displays and touchscreens … is the average driver ready for such futuristic cockpit designs?

There is no reason why an innovation like Continental’s Integrated Cockpit Sys-tem shouldn’t succeed, given that it delivers direct, tangible benefits, enhan-ces user comfort and above all improves safety. There is obviously no point in producing a flashy cockpit with futuristic aesthetics and all sorts of high-tech bells and whistles if it ultimately fails to provide the important information in  a user-friendly manner.

In other words, you stick to the famous “form follows function” design principle?

Exactly. It’s essentially the same problem as a designer chair that wins lots of prizes but is really uncomfortable to sit on. So yes, we stick to the “form follows function” principle, or more accurately “form follows user requirements”. This is particularly important in vehicle cockpits, where we expect to see more and more technological solutions tailored as flexibly as possible to specific contexts of use, with customizable content enabling users’ individual wishes to be met. The inclusion of large display surfaces is one way in which the Integrated Cock-pit System responds to these challenges. So we took various consumer electro-nics trends into account in the system’s design, as well as asking ourselves what we needed to do to optimize the interactions on board the vehicle. One of the solutions we came up with was to use haptic alerts. In other words, rather than simply fulfilling the basic ergonomic requirements, the cockpit also contributes to a positive overall in-vehicle experience.

I can see clearly now: Continental has developed a virtual A-pillar that enhances traffic safety by providing drivers with a clearer view. Photo: Continental


While strong A-pillars play an important role in optimizing crash safety, they also restrict the driver’s field of view. Conti-nental has come up with the idea of de- veloping a virtual A-pillar that the driver can see through …

This is a good example of an innovative proof of concept study that adds genuine value for users by eliminating the forward blind spot created by the A-pillar. There are various road traffic situations where drivers are unable to see everything that is going on as well as they would ideally need to. Our proof of concept demonstrates how special displays can show drivers what is happening in the areas that are hidden from their view. With this system, they really can see every- thing that is going on – it is as if the A-pillar were transparent. To make this possible, an interior camera tracks the driver’s head mo-vements to ensure that the display provides a realistic perspective on what is happening outside. At the same time, externally moun-ted Surround View cameras generate a live video feed of the outside environment. 

Autonomous driving is the next big thing. But it promises to be quite a challenge, especially for HMI developers …

This is a very important topic. The transition between manual and automated driving in particular will call for completely new approaches to the design of the human- machine dialogue. If the human driver is no longer solely occupied with driving the vehicle, their role becomes that of a critical user and supervisor in the cockpit. This makes it essential for them to always know what the vehicle is doing and which driving mode it is in whenever the situation requi-res them to resume control. This change in the driver’s role and the associated needs and requirements constitute one of the greatest challenges in the development of automated driving.