WCX 2023: Making the ‘Smart Cockpit’ and UX Safer

As technology enables more customized preferences in the vehicle, safety remains a development priority.

WCX 2023 in-vehicle experience panelists from left: Moderator Mike Dovorany, Stellantis’ Daniel Cashen, Qualcomm’s Mark Granger, Honda’s David Kirsch, Ford’s Kelley Mitchell Price, and Epic Games’ Heiko Wenczel. (Lindsay Brooke)

The in-vehicle experience, also known as user experience (UX), is changing as technology evolves. “Everyone talks about AI for autonomy and ADAS, but I think it [artificial intelligence] is really going to advance the state-of-the-art in terms of the in-cabin experience,” said Mark Granger, senior director of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

Mike Dovorany, VP of strategic initiatives for Pulse Labs, moderated the in-vehicle experience panel at WCX 2023. (Lindsay Brooke)
Kelley Mitchell Price, senior director of digital product design at Ford. (Lindsay Brooke)
Qualcomm senior director of product management Mark Granger. (Lindsay Brooke)
David Kirsch, principal engineer of tech strategy at American Honda. (Lindsay Brooke)
Stellantis’ smart cockpit chief engineer David Cashen. (Lindsay Brooke)
Epic Games’ director or UX, Heiko Wenczel. (Lindsay Brooke)

Granger and other WCX 2023 panelists addressed the consumer in-vehicle experience. They discussed how digital technologies are already altering how and what drivers can use inside the cockpit. Personalized in-vehicle experiences ─ ranging from touchscreen visuals to syncing up smartphone playlists ─ is a trend that is expected to continue. Engineers and designers recognize the need to counter-balance the inherent distractions of in-vehicle infotainment with safe driving.

“We’re in a really good position to make the total vehicle interaction safer,” said David Cashen, chief engineer of the smart cockpit at Stellantis. For instance, he said drivers who want non-vehicle related information while driving will probably find a way to get that information while driving. “We can optimize the route in which they get that information to be as safe as possible,” Cashen said.

Driver distraction can occur for various reasons, including while trying to complete a task that’s not second nature. “It comes down to customer familiarity with what they’re doing,” said David Kirsch, principal engineer of technology strategy for CASE (connected, autonomous, shared and electric) and the energy business at American Honda.

Kirsch noted that new-to-market applications can be especially problematic for drivers, forcing the in-vehicle experience “to [center around] the customer understanding how to use it naturally, not reading a manual, not having to do so much,” he said.

The less complex an infotainment task is for a driver, the easier it is for that driver to stay focused on driving. Kelley Mitchell Price, senior director of digital product design at Ford, said designers should consider whether using a system will build confidence, or create uncertainty. “Those are very good filters to apply to a lot of things,” she explained.

In the gaming world, complex games typically have gamers watching and practicing tactics via tutorials. Because the tutorials revolve around users repeating certain things again and again that aids the learning process, according to Heiko Wenczel, head of the Detroit lab and director of the user experience business and HMI at Epic Games, whose Fortnite is one of the world’s largest online video games. That same approach of using tutorials could be applied to vehicle systems and apps. “The system can react and teach you,” Wenczel said.

Gamers like vivid visuals. Bold visual cues could also be applied to the in-vehicle experience. “There are so many opportunities,” Wenczel said. For example, the instrument cluster’s speedometer that emphasizes numbers could be replaced by colors.

“What if the screen just turns all green as long as you’re driving the right speed,” he suggested. For speed violators, a monetary fine or loss of license could be imposed. “There are so many different ways of changing behavior or changing the concept of how information is transmitted to the driver,” Wenczel said.