Harman is infusing empathy into its design engineering to improve the user experience by tailoring functions to align with user needs and wants. (Harman)

Harman using empathy to help elevate the user experience

Harman designers are striving to make decisions that align with user needs and wants.

In-car connectivity for today’s cars and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles is moving product development norms beyond the traditional engineering approach. “Most products are designed from a straightforward engineering focus: It works like this. But with a user experience approach, it’s about designing with empathy,” said Jason Johnson, director of user experience (UX) design at Harman.

Designing with empathy essentially means that product developers strive to make decisions that align with user needs and wants. “What matters are the answers to these questions: Are users accomplishing their tasks and goals? What are they going to tell their friends about the experience? And will that feedback be positive or negative?” Johnson said.

In-vehicle communication
In the evolving arena of in-vehicle connectivity, users want to experience cutting edge possibilities. “We need to put our collective minds together to move forward,” Johnson (below) said. To evolve its vehicle connectivity to a connected global ecosystem, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is collaborating with Samsung’s Harman and Google technologies.

Slated to rollout in phases across the globe during the second half of 2019, the connected vehicle ecosystem will expand the Uconnect infotainment system that launched in 2003 as a built-in feature on Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Fiat vehicles. It will use Harman’s new cloud-based platform for off-board systems; onboard UConnect systems will be powered by Android. The global platform will provide 4G network connectivity while supporting the move to 5G. Plans call for all new FCA vehicles to offer this next-generation vehicle connected ecosystem worldwide by 2022.

Maintenance reminders, infotainment, navigation, driving style eco-coaching and other services underscore the offerings. Other included features will range from over-the-air software updates and e-mobility apps to FCA electrified vehicle support (such as remote battery management and vehicle-to-grid services). Harald Wester, FCA’s Chief Technical Officer, noted that the collaboration elicits “a flexible, easy-to-use and connected ecosystem that not only deploys today’s technology, but is also ready to integrate upcoming innovations.”

The connected ecosystem also serves as a foundation for a myriad of possibilities for the various levels of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The biggest challenge, though, is how to get users to have confidence with the technologies. “There are many examples of technology not working optimally – from mobile phones to speech recognition systems to digital assistants – and that can erode our trust in technology. There’s also the erosion in trust of privacy. Those things are creating doubts in people’s minds, so the entire technology industry has a role in changing those opinions,” Johnson said.

The process of trust-building
The vast majority of people around the globe have no firsthand experience with AVs. That lack of experience can resonate as a fear of the unknown for occupants. “The hard part is how you build the trust to get to fully autonomous vehicles,” Johnson said, noting that the user experiences at SAE Levels 3 and 4 are especially important in the context of trust-building.

One way to establish trust, according to Johnson, is to focus on shared control. From an interface perspective, the autonomous car and the human driver need to be in sync. “My analogy for this is a horse and the rider. The horse is intelligent and learns over time. The rider learns to adapt to each horse’s personality and that horse’s level of intelligence and experience. When a horse and rider build up a relationship, the rider can let go of the reigns,” said Johnson.

For the occupants inside an autonomous driving car, establishing trust will take time. “There will need to be some type of human control and some type of feedback,” Johnson said. Today’s drivers experience vehicle control by accelerating, braking, and steering. “We humans still need to make decisions, such as telling the vehicle to slow down if we feel it’s traveling faster than we like,” Johnson said, referencing the evolving role of human-to-machine communication.

Making it personal
Interior personalization is likely to be a significant aspect of the user experience for AVs. The start point for personalization is occupant monitoring via in-vehicle cameras, sensors, and microphones. For occupants with vision or other physical limitations, cabin customization will be highly valued. By using technology to identify individuals and their positions in the vehicle, the stage is set for the car being able to reconfigure automatically.

“This is one reason why personalization is important; it enables the vehicle to address personal preferences and adapt for people with particular needs. This is especially important for a shared vehicle application,” Johnson said. Taking a user-approach to design and technology development is a mantra reverberating within the automotive industry.

“Within Harman, design is a horizontal function that supports all of the divisions,” Johnson said, referring to the company’s summer 2018 launch of Huemen, an agency of 250 designers around the globe. “Just to see the rise in importance of design inside and outside of the company shows how much the industry is changing. And it’s changing because it needs to change,” Johnson said, “We’re thinking about how the user is feeling and what’s needed by the user.”

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