This is how the cockpit of the future might look like

July 16, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Automotive engineering services and technology company Audio Mobil has for the first time lifted the veil on its research vehicle Car-ICT3 - a technology platform to develop and test innovative connectivity and HMI approaches. With this platform, the company demonstrates an HMI concept centred on the user requirements of the connected car. Another innovation is the partitioning of the vehicle into separate infotainment user zones.

Audio Mobile's HMI model is not a vague futuristic study: The company claims that the concept is a near-series implementation. The research vehicle is based on 25 years of experience in developing communication technologies for cars. Despite being an almost invisible low-profile company, Audio Mobil is involved in HMI and ergonomics research for several major OEMs and lists Audi, BMW and Daimler as reference customers.

The most striking feature of the Car-ICT3 is its interactive steering wheel. Apparently inspired by formula one cockpits, it brings all controls and instruments directly into the wheel, enabling drivers to control all major functions in the vehicle without taking the hands off.


Fig. 1: No instrument cluster anymore, all displays are inside of the wheel

The design is based on the cognition that over the past years the complexity of the HMI has increased exponentially. Many cockpits and centre stacks are overloaded with keys and buttons. Plus, even with handsfree set, the usage of a mobile phone is a significant risk factor for traffic safety. "The vast number of features, functions and connectivity components drives the driver's capability of cognitive information processing to its limits," says Audio Mobil chief designer Joseph Fellner. This assessment is backed by a number of studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSH) of the USA as well as by the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Contextual Interfaces of the Salzburg University. The common denominator of these studies: Conventional HMIs are hitting their limits. 

Fig.2: All functions are at the driver's finger tips

As a result of these considerations, Audio Mobil developed together with Japanese automotive safety expert something it calls Interactive Communication Steering Wheel. It bundles all interaction options at the steering wheel without forcing the driver to take his hands off the wheel of redirect its eyes from the street to the dashboard or the centre stack. Navigation, radio, climate, light - all these functions