Usability in the vehicle? Indispensable!

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Links das Cockpit des Golf 3, rechts  das Cockpit des Golf 8: Man stelle sich eine Person vor, die einen solchen Generationswechsel ohne Zwischenschritte vollzieht

On the left side: cockpit of Golf 3, on the right side: cockpit of 8: Imagin a person, who executes such a change without any intermediate steps.

Driving a car is not an easy task: The car needs to be kept in both the track and at the same speed. At the same time the co-moving traffic and oncoming traffic has to be kept in mind. In the city countless pedestrians, cyclists, children, dogs, etc. also need to be kept in mind. Hazards and risks should be identified before they occur – so that they can be prevented. Driving assistance systems should help us to drive safer. The introduction of various driving assistance systems takes place gradually and there are usually extensions then for specific sections (z. B. first on motorways or up to 30 km / h), nevertheless the number and scope of these systems increase. Drivers must not only decide what radio stations they want to listen and how to control the temperature, they have to control more or less a computer: parking sensors, speed and distance control, lane assistant, congestion assistant, fatigue sensors, voice control and multimedia systems are only a small selection of the drivers still visible “assistens”. The computing power and algorithms hidden behind an autopilot or the new Mercedes concept car is impossible to tell in detail for the normal driver. The technical leap from the assistance and partial automation (such as the congestion assistant Daimler) to full automation, where the driver is turning away from the driving task and the system does not need to be conrolled has already succeeded. The increasing integration and linking of the individual components is therefore becoming more and more relevant: The sole task of driving becomes safer and more comfortable, but is supplemented by more and more secondary tasks. For this purpose, it is necessary that all systems interact and do not hinder or overwhelm the driver. A good user interface, which allows the driver to concentrate on the road is therefore essential to ensure driving safety.

We tell you what question has to be asked at which moment:

Involve your customers from the very beginning in the development of your system. Already in the design phase, the understanding of the operating concept should be evaluated. This can easily begin with a paper prototype in a usability lab and lead to a lane change test on the PC. (A lane change test is a driving task, in which probands have to change the road on a two- or multi-lane road in a certain moment. A secondary task is the handling of a navigation. In this way the distraction, which is caused by the secondary task, can be measured.)

Die wichtigsten Punkte, die Sie in den einzelnen Testphasen beachten sollten

The main issues relate at this early stage of  the understanding and the learnability of the operating concept. Do not forget the older generation of your customers and other user groups. This will often provide new insights that can show the accessibility and comprehension problems from a different perspective. Especially in this early stage of development, it is still very easy and inexpensive to make changes. In addition, iterative user testing helps to make decisions – don’t discuss too long, ask your customers!

The next step in the development phase often takes place in the driving simulator, at the beginning often in a seat box”, which represents only the cockpit of the vehicle. You should now pay attention to the ergonomic design and layout of controls next to the understanding : Can all individuals reach the controls without bending forward or having to look away too long? How safe is the driving style of your subjects when they operate the controls? This shows whether the arrangement and design are intuitively understandable even while driving and  if they are a huge distraction for the driver from the driving task.

The final testing should take place in a real vehicle under real conditions, at least on a test track. Here the protective safety of the driving simulator is missing, in which driving errors don’t have dire consequences. In this phase, the operational concept is almost fully developed and changes are very expensive. Therefore you should only find minor optimization points. The driving safety of the subjects, the overview of the driving situation, confidence in the technology and the sense of security are important points that can be realisticly gathered here.

Take care of an optimal information management from the beginning, which neither overchare your clients nor demand to little from them. A transparent exchange of status information and an intuitive understanding of the controls that have been developed in an iterative, user-centered design process, will be your key to success.

by Melanie Wieland