Forget trolling for a parking space at a crowded venue or in a remote area: Mitsubishi Electric envisions a vehicle-deployed drone to locate—then reserve—a spot for you. (Mitsubishi Electric).


Mitsubishi Electric Automotive of America sees ‘hybrid haptics’— and even your own vehicle-deployed drone — as new methods to enhance the in-cabin experience.
As a kid who grew up with his fair share of television cartoons and action feature films of the late 1960s and ‘70s, when Mitsubishi Electric recently showed a video depicting a vehicle-deployed drone intended to aid conventionally-piloted and automated-driving vehicles, the demo provoked a two-pronged reaction.

The first: “Wait a minute. Speed Racer had a drone launched from the car, too. They really were seeing the future.”

Following the initial wonder of Speed Racer come to life, my pragmatic retort mirrored the memorable “You’re joking,” comment from James Bond to Q upon seeing for the first time the Aston Martin’s iconic ejector seat.
Mr. Q was not joking. Neither is Mitsubishi Electric. Its idea incubators have drawn up a handful of intriguing new ideas for aiding and enhancing the in-cabin experience. The drone is, pardon the expression, no flight of fancy. Neither is an equally clever innovation the company calls “hybrid haptics,” intended to improve the usability and safety of cockpit human-machine interfaces (HMI).

Last-mile buddy
Mitsubishi’s demonstration for the “urban drone” envisions a scenario in which you’ve driven to a major sports venue or a place such as a state park with limited and widely-dispersed parking areas. You’ve got to search for a parking spot that may or may not exist. Apart from time-consuming and often frustrating, weaving through large parking lots while distracted by the search for an open parking place can be dangerous.

Instead, just before you arrive, the urban drone launches from its rooftop nest and flies ahead to scan for a parking place. If and when if finds a spot, it relays the position to the vehicle’s GPS, which provides turn-by-turn directions to the driver; Mitsubishi doesn’t suggest it yet, but presumably those coordinates could be just as easily supplied to autonomous system that would automatically pilot the vehicle to the selected parking space.

While this transpires, the dutiful drone hovers in or near the open parking space to visually signal any wannabe squatters that the space already has been identified and “reserved” by your arriving vehicle, while connected vehicles would be automatically informed that space is taken. If the parking area you’ve entered is full, the drone can extend its search to the next available area.

Hybrid haptics
Mitsubishi also demonstrated its clever hybrid haptics concept, intended to simplify in-vehicle controls by allowing the user to assign preferred tasks to dedicated buttons or other “haptic” physical controls, eliminating the distraction of drilling down into menus to enable the desired function.

The company’s demonstration cockpit is rigged with a typical touchscreen interface that is flanked by physical buttons that have small OLED screens embedded in their surface. Various functions or destinations (the “home” screen, for example) from the touchscreen can be dragged to the OLED-faced button, changing its operation to the function you’ve specified. If someone’s always changing the vehicle’s entertainment source, for instance, one press of the button can return it to your preferred source.

Mark Rakoski, vice president of Advanced Mobility at Mitsubishi Electric Automotive of America, told SAE's Autonomous Vehicle Engineering magazine hat the company believes voice control also can combine with hybrid haptics to better-optimize coming HMI.

Thanks to in-home verbal interfaces such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, “We think there will be a resurgence of voice-command” in vehicles, Rakoski said. Although voice control so far has had a mostly checkered reputation for in-vehicle applications, he said the technology is “getting way better than it was,” particularly with the increasing influence of artificial intelligence.

“Voice is a part of (all developers’) solution going forward,” Rakoski asserted. Continue reading »