The car of the future is connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE). For automotive companies (OEMs), this means that interiors and horsepower are no longer enough: Autonomous driving and voice interfaces are just two use cases where OEMs and suppliers need to shift their focus to the complete user experience. But features that don’t exist yet are difficult to test with traditional prototyping techniques. For this reason, OEMs are taking the adoption of immersive technologies and modern design frameworks into their R&D processes very seriously.
Recognizing this trend, Athena, a specialized engineering studio for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and gamification, has pioneered not only a vision for the connected, autonomous car of the future but also the human-centered design process behind it. While designers at OEMs are often restricted by the legal and limited technical requirements of today, Athena has made it possible to design for a more desirable future of mobility.
Why automotive companies are prioritising UX Design
User experience (UX) design, a human-centered approach with roots in the software industry, allows OEMs to test new concepts across a blend of digital, physical and service offerings, cutting across the siloed departments in place at today’s manufacturers. When designing a technical hardware product there’s often an emphasis on functional, geometric and technical prototypes but UX offers a way to conduct user research as soon as the first concept stage.
In addition, immersive prototypes that focus on the complete user experience, as opposed to aesthetic or technical details, promise faster iteration, fewer errors, significant savings in time and resources, and ultimately, better solutions.
More often than not, the technology-driven approach adopted in Silicon Valley has produced products that fail because there is a product-market mismatch, the timing is wrong, or they simply don’t meet users’ needs. This ‘technology for the sake of technology’ mindset completely removes any consideration of the user experience.
With the software cARVR, Athena has proven extended reality’s (XR) value as a toolkit for UX designers working at automotive companies to test future technologies. XR, which combines the core features of AR, VR and mixed reality (MR), allows for the testing of both future technologies (transparent and holographic screens, AR, Level 5 autonomy) and existing ones (touch interfaces, voice and gesture control).
Immersive technology will transform design and manufacturing processes for OEMs
With precise and reliable hand tracking, for example, designers can build and test touch devices and interfaces such as in-vehicle infotainment, human-machine interfaces, and companion apps on smart and wearable devices, all of which are already important differentiators and USPs for OEMs. Added to this, the easy integration of high fidelity 2D prototypes results in live feedback from the car and environment, providing context to the interaction.
UX designers can leverage XR technologies to not only test the prototypes but the human interactions that they inspire. While there are still non-trivial challenges ahead, such as creating haptic feedback to touch in a lean hardware setup, these features let you experience and subsequently improve, the interaction between a connected service and a vehicle before either of them have been built. What’s more, the fact that the user can see their hands lends to a more intuitive navigation of the software and a more convincing immersive experience as a whole.
Hardware innovation & human-centred UX Design
With these traditional interfaces, it is particularly important to use a state-of-the-art, head-mounted display (HMD) such as our partner VARJO’s VR-1, the first human-eye resolution VR headset. With VARJO’s panels, it’s finally possible for user interface (UI) designers to work with elements – fonts and icons – in their original dimensions without running into detail or legibility issues. Eye tracking is another element that is very important to user and usability testing, marketing, and even gaze control. With this technology, which is integrated into the VR-1 headset, users’ eye movements can be tracked, enabling designers to create heat maps and other visual representations of users’ attention.
A study conducted by Accenture found that 36% of CEO’s are interested in adopting immersive technology because XR removes distance and skill barriers between teams. As automotive operations become increasingly scattered and siloed with departments developing different parts of the driver and passenger experience independently, cARVR has leveraged XR technology to effectively disrupt and democratize the standard automotive design process.
Key Rules to Follow and Lessons Learned
Ultimately, when it comes to user focused design there are a few key rules to follow: show, don’t tell, be visual, fail quickly and cheaply, and adopt a learn by testing mentality that will allow for improved communication and efficiency in the development process.