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Tanneberger introduces the e-Golf Touch at the Las Vegas CES in January 2016 (Photo: VW)

As driver assistance systems become more sophisticated and the fully autonomous car is beginning to look more feasible, automakers are increasingly focused on what the changing trends will mean for the human-machine interface (HMI) systems. In an interview with automotiveIT, Volkmar Tanneberger, head of electrical/electronics development at Volkswagen Group discusses new operating concepts, impulses from consumer entertainment technologies and the role international HMI guidelines play in the auto industry”˜s plans. A full version of the interview appears in the June issue of automotiveIT International magazine.

Mr Tanneberger, the connected car presents new challenges for manufacturers, among them the issue of how to operate it. In the 1980s, a car had seven central functions to manage, but today there are many more. Is the cognitive load behind the wheel increasing? We are fully aware of the rising cognitive load. But you have to differentiate clearly between passive and active loads. We cannot influence the passive ones. Included in these are, for example, complex traffic situations, which also lead to higher demands being placed on the car driver. The active load results from the fact that you need a means to operate every additional function. That load has, indeed, increased since the introduction of assistance systems and a broader infotainment offering.

You mentioned the smartphone as leading the way in user interfaces. Are carmakers more or less forced to adopt the smartphone approach? Are we getting to the end of knobs and switches in the car?We’re moving in that direction. With the facelift of the current Golf model, we’re introducing gesture control, which is a further step in reducing mechanical switches. We showed our vision at CES in January. We’re working on this, but we won’t have a car without switches anytime soon. And to be fair, scientists don’t all agree whether it’s better to have rotary controllers that have become very intuitive to use, or sensor-controlled systems that more resemble what people are used to inthe consumer world. We will evaluate this with our customers before we make a decision. From a technical perspective, we could have a cockpit without switches today already. But I personally don’t believe that’s an intuitive usage concept. I’m happy to be convinced otherwise, though.

Can you give us some insight into what’s going to change in the user interface in coming years?Our psychologists are working very intensively on the visual channel in pre-development projects. The central question is how to prioritize, classify and organize visual information. On the autobahn, you can process different information than in hectic city traffic. That’s why our displays can prioritize. The freely programmable instrument cluster and the head-up display are particularly important. Today we can put information such as the navigation map directly in front of the driver or we can include it in the head-up display. The driver no longer has to look at the central monitor. It is our goal to put all the information that’s important for a particular traffic situation in the primary field of view of the driver. That means a completely new positioning of information. The setup in tomorrow’s vehicles will change massively from the systems we have today. It’s even possible that notifications and operating systems will adapt to the driving situation of the moment.

And when would that be?It could happen at the end of the decade, because that’s when Volkswagen will introduce the next generation of its modular toolkit. The architecture of the cars will change. Thus it makes sense to introduce it then. One thing I can reveal: In the next generation of vehicles we will start a new chapter in how a car is operated.

(The full interview with Volkmar Tanneberger is available in the next issue of automotiveIT International magazine, which is published in late June. For a complimentary subscription, please go to: www.automotiveIT.com/subscribe)