The rapid influx of digital media into vehicle interiors presents a challenge for car designers. How to best allow drivers to interface with screens intuitively without distracting attention from the main task. keeping the vehicle in control on the road. Touchscreens are now fairly common although the main drawback is that they require the driver to focus on them while in use, distracting them from the road ahead. Some automakers have added haptic feedback, like a vibrating pulse, to try and reduce the amount of time needed to look at the screen.
At the 2014 North American International Auto Show, we saw two examples of next generation touchpads used in forthcoming production cars. Lexus unveiled their 2015 RC F performance coupe which has a center console touch pad looking rather like it was lifted right off a laptop.
The controller pad has a set of 4 simple buttons above for quick link navigation to menus, item scrolling and a dedicated home button. We didn’t get a chance to try the system out but the raised ‘enclosure’ design of the unit looks like it would be easy to locate and use without actually looking at it.
Mercedes-Benz debuted their new C-Class sedan with a really innovative touchpad. The touch surface is curved and fitted to a mouse-like shaped enclosure. The touchpad permits letters, numbers and special characters to be entered by the driver in handwriting. Mercedes says the system can be calibrated to recognize any language. The touchpad delivers haptic feedback and the top portion functions as a click button.
We tried the system and it takes a few minutes to get accustomed to navigating without seeing a cursor. But it didn’t take long to get quick with navigating through menus and the pad is very responsive. Also within reach, and cleverly located right under the pad is a scroll wheel.
While both of these example sit on the premium end of the automotive spectrum, it likely won’t be long before touchpads migrate down to more affordable models and get integrated into other interior vehicle surfaces like the steering wheel.