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Monday - October 17, 2022

In-Vehicle Applications for Advanced Haptics Technology

Vehicle technology is evolving at a faster pace than ever before. Less than ten years ago, many cars weren’t even equipped with screens or cameras! Despite long design lifecycles, vehicle manufacturers have been able to integrate high-tech enhancements that appeal to both drivers and passengers. Today, in the era of the smartphone, drivers expect to interact with their vehicles in a similar way – creating a seamless experience. While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now ubiquitous in new vehicles, OEMs are exploring new methods to engage passengers while maintaining a safe driving environment.

As manufacturers prepare for further vehicle autonomy, haptic technology is being employed to improve safety, entertainment and efficiency. Engineers must consider many factors when designing tactile feedback mechanisms in order to find the perfect balance between informative and distracting. Drivers are already busy processing visual and auditory signals while driving so it is important for touch input to be subtle, and primarily used to fill gaps in the vehicle-driver interface.

Enhancing Vehicle Safety Through Haptics

While safety is the most common application for in-vehicle haptic feedback, there are varying approaches and locations for system integration. In order to be effective, the haptic device must be in contact with the driver – the driver’s seat, seatbelt or steering wheel for example. The input must also be carefully optimized so as not to startle the driver when delivering routine alerts or warnings. Some of the first in-seat haptic lane departure warnings were so jarring that they actually created a distraction rather than a helpful alert. They should also be designed in harmony with auditory alerts in order to avoid over-stimulating drivers.

Tactile input in vehicles can be used in two different ways – driver assistance systems (ADAS) or warning systems. Parking assistance systems can benefit from haptic feedback to guide the driver into a parking space through subtle vibrations indicating the vehicle’s proximity to obstacles. Today, most of these systems use auditory signals which can be very loud and annoying. Switching to a haptic response allows to information to be conveyed directly to the driver instead of all passengers with a vehicle. Haptic feedback can replace auditory for many ADAS processes such as navigation, adaptive cruise control and distracted driver systems. For warning systems, tactile alerts can be used to supplement auditory input for critical safety warnings – specifically collision warning solutions.

Haptic Feedback for Improved Vehicle Efficiency

The push towards electrification continues to drive automotive technology development with the aim of maximizing vehicle range. Manufacturers can design a highly efficient vehicle, but they cannot control how a driver operates the vehicle – quick acceleration, excessive braking and uneven speed can drain a battery more quickly. Many electric vehicles today provide the driver with an “Eco Score” which shows how often they operate the vehicle within the ideal driving conditions to conserve energy. Going further, manufacturers can provide tactile cues for the driver, such as within the pedal, that helps the driver optimize speed, braking and acceleration to improve their vehicle’s range.

Engaging Passengers With Active Infotainment

In-vehicle entertainment will be more prevalent in the not-so-distant future with the introduction of autonomous cars. Today, manufacturers are adding new infotainment features to improve the passenger experience. These enhancements are not only limited to the rear seats as privacy displays make their debut in front passenger dashboards. New technology enables the display to block content from view of the driver to avoid distraction while keeping passengers engaged. Haptic technology can deliver more immersive experiences by using seat vibration – like the Dolby theaters – to sync with on-screen content.

Displays equipped with tactile response can benefit drivers as well by using techniques designed to simulate buttons and textures on an otherwise flat surface. Infotainment systems pack a dizzying amount of information in today’s vehicles – from climate systems to advanced navigation – almost everything can be customized using the center console display. Attempting to input commands while driving can be difficult and potentially dangerous as static displays require the driver’s attention to enter settings. Haptics technology that can simulate buttons on a flat surface can be used to alert the driver when a setting is selected without a visual confirmation thus improving vehicle safety.

The sense of touch is another channel of communication that OEM and Tier 1 manufacturers are using to connect with drivers. As cars become smarter and more complex, this channel will be critical to engage with drivers and passengers.

Jayme Meyers
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