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Connectivity is among the many factors that prompt Continental’s Klotz to note that “HMIs are not one size fits all.”

HMI development: more features, less system complexity

Human machine interfaces are changing rapidly as radio head units handle more functions and connect to diverse systems inside and outside the vehicle. HMI systems are being consolidated, handling cluster control and other functions, while head-up displays (HUD) finally seem poised to gain greater industry and customer acceptance.

HMIs are becoming a major vehicle differentiator as they link drivers to the Internet and manage the myriad options now available inside the vehicle. The need to reduce driver distraction also comes into play in many of the new HMIs that will be demonstrated at CES 2017 in Las Vegas. That fast-growing show has become an important venue for the auto industry as consumer electronics impact more aspects of vehicle design.

Using the "cloud"

Such changes are forcing design teams to make HMIs more intuitive, even adapting to changing driving conditions so drivers have the right options for the relevant driving conditions.

“HMIs are not one size fits all, they need to understand what the driver needs,” said Alex Klotz, Director for Advanced R&D, Interior, at Continental. “If someone’s on a dark, icy road they don’t know, why would you put a phone call through? Also, the needs of someone taking their family on a trip are different than someone driving alone, where they may want a more sporty drive.”

These interfaces are expanding their scope to include cell phones, apps and navigation while also handling music from a range of sources. The cloud is also becoming both an input infotainment source and an extension of the vehicle’s computing architecture, providing both infotainment from the Web and connections to the servers that make up the cloud. Cloud computing gives HMIs more power so they can do more.

“You need the cloud to orchestrate the large matrix of demands,” said Scott Frank, Marketing Vice President at Airbiquity. “All the information and data needs to be tracked. With cloud connectivity, the vehicle will not only warn you that have a rolling flat [tire], the car will pull up the navigation system to show you options for taking the car in for repairs.”

As the volume of inputs and outputs grow, the number of electronic control units may shrink. Many HMI systems are now managing the instrument cluster.

“When you combine the cluster and the infotainment system, software with safety requirements will run next to apps on the infotainment center,” said John Wall, Senior Vice President at QNX Software Systems. “Secure firmware like our Hypervisor are needed to separate functions so problems in one area don’t impact other programs.”

The ability to isolate programs and operating environments will grow as design teams consolidate ECUs. Powerful multicore processors let engineers build domain controllers that handle a number of related functions, isolating them both on hardware and software.

“Our domain controller uses multiple cores to drive the HUD, the cluster and infotainment,” said Tim Yerdon, Vice President of Design and Connected Services at Visteon. “On the software side, it uses a hypervisor. One core runs the cluster, Linux runs infotainment on another core, and Android is on another core that runs apps. If something crashes, it just crashes that core.”

HMIs may finally include HUDs now that combiner technologies make them more affordable. Combiners use a dedicated display surface house on the dashboard, a configuration that’s far simpler to implement than systems that put imagery on the windshield. A technology that’s been limited to a niche within the luxury segment may finally go more mainstream.

Driver monitoring advances

“HUD’s success has been predicted for years,” Yerdon said. “Its compound annual growth rates now look great, though it’s growing from a small base.” The primary benefit is that displays can show plenty of information directly in the driver’s view so eyeballs aren’t drawn down to center-stack screens. High resolution displays make it possible to present information from many sources.

“HUD can provide rich information from the cloud,” Klotz said. “If vehicle systems don’t provide it, people will use their smart phones and be distracted.”

The growth of infotainment options and the advances in safety systems may require systems that monitor the driver’s focus. Drivers can increasingly rely on safety systems that step in when they don’t react quickly enough. That’s coupled with a growing number of distractions, leading to mounting interest in observation cameras.

“We're introducing a system that monitors head angle to help determine drowsiness and whether drivers are looking outside or at the rod,” Klotz said. “It’s important to know if the driver’s following traffic, otherwise you can send too many alerts and drivers will ignore them. If they’re looking to the side, we can bring their attention back.”

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