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Why Le Mans car designers are turning to 3D printing

Printing in 3D has been described as the “future of manufacturing” and is increasingly being used to make everything from film props to food.

The technology is also being used to make parts for motor racing cars.

BBC Click spoke to Dan Walmsley, Team Principal at Strakka Racing about how the technology makes it faster and cheaper to test out their designs.

Watch more clips on the Click website. If you are in the UK you can watch the whole programme on BBC iPlayer.

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Arizona-based company builds 3-D printed car, drives at Chicago show

Several groups worked together to build a driveable 3-D printed car during the six-day International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.

In a press release, Chandler, Ariz.-based Local Motors called the 3-D printed Strati a first-of-its-kind concept car. Local Motors worked with the Association for Manufacturing Technology, Cincinnati Incorporated and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to 3-D print and rapidly assemble the car during the Sept. 8-13 event.

Engineers started out by 3-D printing the car using a process called Broad Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM).

Local Motors said it held a six-week challenge and received more than 200 entries from 30 different countries before chosing the Strati as the winning design. Michele Anoe of Italy submitted the Strati design, which calls for the car’s body to be 3-D printed in a single piece — an approximate 44-hour process.

The 3-D printed car is made from ABS plastic that has been infused with carbon fiber. Local Motors said it believes it is the first company to ever attempt to print both the body and chassis components of a vehicle together, although others have built cars before using a 3-D printing process.

After the vehicle was printed, Local Motors said it outfitted the car with mechanical components, such as motors, wiring, suspension and a battery.

For a finale, the completed Strati was showcased and then driven around the venue Saturday, but Local Motors said it could not drive the car around on city streets due to vehicle regulations.

You can see the steps on the Strati building process on Local Motors’ website.

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How San Francisco Is Designing Its Metro Train of the Future

On September 11, 1972, crowds lined up for hours to be the first passengers aboard the sleek and high-tech trains of the new San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system. In the lead-up to the opening, newspapers had envisioned a gleaming future for train travel in America. One wire report asked readers to imagine “traveling 30 miles in 20 minutes, relaxing in a soft lounge chair, reading a newspaper during the smooth ride.” One headline announced “Transit System for Space Age.” The new BART trains lived up to that visionary billing: the spaceship silver, the hexagonal shape of the cars, and the plush aqua interiors had a sci-fi sort of feel, like this was the kind of train that would someday whisk you across cities on the moon.

A full 42 years later, those same exact train cars are still on the tracks, and they don’t feel so futuristic anymore. A lot more people are riding BART today than during the system’s early years. Average weekday ridership is now about 400,000, up from just over 100,000 in the late 1970s. And though the 1972-vintage trains have undergone remodeling and the system has been augmented with a few dozen newer trains, the overall state of BART trains is old, crusty, and cramped. “We have old cars,” says Aaron Weinstein, the agency’s chief marketing officer. “Our fleet is one of the oldest in the nation.”

There have been considerable advances in the technologies used to make train cars over the last four decades—from seats that are easier to clean to communications systems that can display information dynamically to lighter structural materials that reduce energy demands. Train operators around the world understand these changes, and periodically update their systems with newer models of train cars or better signage systems. Washington D.C.’s Metro system will be integrating brand new train cars to its system next summer that feature floors that are easier to clean and handrails that reduce clogging around doors. Chicago’s CTA will begin adding 800 new cars to its fleet in 2019 with designs that remove unpopular center-facing seats.

“Our fleet is one of the oldest in the nation,” says Aaron Weinstein, BART’s chief marketing officer. (BART)

Nearly half a century after the system’s launch, BART will get its own long-awaited makeover. The so-called “Fleet of the Future” plan will put between 775 and 1,000 new BART cars on the tracks between 2017 and 2023, at a cost between $2.5 billion and $3.3 billion. But the overhaul is more of a full reimagining than a cosmetic touchup—from the big-picture look of the car itself to the minutiae of floor patterning and handrail grips. BART used the chance to rethink how the trains look on the outside and feel on the inside, how they accommodate the crowds of today and the near future, and how they subtly control rush-hour crowds and all those bicycles. The designers behind this project are focusing on the many minor details that together make a train ride either smooth or crowded or terrible or great.

In other words, BART asked what the redesign can do not only for its train cars but for the system as a whole. It’s industrial design mixed with interior design, plus a splash of social engineering. And with the right touch, BART might even be able to hold on to that futuristic feel for another 40 years.

•       •       •       •       •

The process of designing the Fleet of the Future began in 2009. Initially it was less about design than data. BART looked at various rider data and surveys that it regularly collects to begin figuring out what the system and its riders needed and wanted from a new train.

Weinstein says the agency surveyed how riders felt about the existing cars. They asked riders to email ideas for improving the cars, and to send pictures of elements they liked from other transit systems around the world. They conducted “seat labs” in stations to let riders test out different seat spacing arrangements—a matter of inches and centimeters that determines, to a large degree, the entire spatial design of the car interior. They even shipped in loaner seats from metro systems in Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles to give BART riders the feel of different seat designs.

BART’s current fleet of trains hasn’t changed much since the system launched in 1972. (Maurits90/Wikimedia Commons)

BART looked at demographics, too, says Weinstein. The agency considered how population growth rates would affect the demand for trains, and how the aging Baby Boomer population would affect the need for seats designed for seniors and people with disabilities. It also considered BART’s scattered geography. The system serves as both an urban metro system and a regional commuter system, which can result in a dramatic difference between its weekday riders and its largely leisure- or tourism-based weekend riders. Meeting the needs of these various groups requires a good understanding of how each group uses the system.

So when BART contracted BMW Group DesignworksUSA in March 2011 to create the conceptual design for the new train cars, the agency first handed over all its ridership data, surveys, and observations. Weinstein says the data-rich approach is critical to making sure the new designs will actually benefit the people who use BART.

“We’re planning on ordering up to a thousand of these cars,” he says. “We can’t really afford to be wrong.”

•       •       •       •       •

BMW Group DesignworksUSA, you might rightly guess, designs a lot of BMWs. Though a subsidiary of BMW, DesignworksUSA spends half of its time on projects for other clients. It’s designed a computer mouse for gamers, lawn mowers for John Deere, and a mega-yacht for a mega-millionaire, among other things. Much of the work centers around transportation of one sort or another, and much is on display in its offices 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, in Newbury Park, the kind of exurb built for corporate offices.

When I visited the DesignworksUSA studio in late July, creative director Johannes Lampela offered an example of the level of detail given to design projects such as the new BART cars. He showed me thematic collections of swatches of materials—fabrics, carpeting, metals, plastics—all of which were intended to represent a specific feeling or place or lifestyle. One was breezy, one was more mechanical, another was earthy, and another somehow conjured the feel of a nightclub with $18 cocktails. These were the initial composites from which an overall design aesthetic is based.

A rendering of the new BART design shows how colors on the floor of the train will distinguish seated leg space from standing areas. (Courtesy BART)

Though color schemes and tones of plastic and floor coverings are all important elements of train design, the guiding element is the seating arrangement. Lampela ran through the three design concepts he and his team created for BART. They were essentially those swatch palettes exploded out into every nook of a train car: a seat-heavy version named Commuter Comfort; a more open and airy version named Social Interaction; and a colorful car with customizable elements called Reflecting the Community. When BART showed the three options to riders, most preferred the Social Interaction design. Lampela agreed this flexible arrangement is well-suited to BART’s wide variety of riders.

“We’ve created a central area that is more social, more lounge-like, and then we have more typical commuter seats in the back, so this allows for the longest distance commuters that enter the train first to sit in the more comfortable seats,” he says. As the train fills, more people will sit in the L-shaped seats in the center of the car, and eventually stand in the empty space between them. Colors on the floor of the train distinguish the leg space of someone sitting in a seat from the standing area for another rider. Lampela said these subtle differences can play a big role in guiding how riders position themselves. “We can start directing traffic differently,” he says.

The design encourages more people to load into the center of the car, where there’s more room for standing. Because BART expects its ridership to continue to grow, packing in more people is a priority. To make that easier, BMW Group DesignworksUSA designed a third door in the middle of the car. The design directs riders with bicycles to enter at the center doors, where there’s more room and new bike racks, while wheelchair users are directed to use the doors at the ends of the car. The doors themselves are an innovation. Similar to the sliding door of a minivan, the new doors slide together and pull back in when they close, creating suction with the car and reducing the amount of ambient noise inside the moving train.

The designers also paid close attention to the way riders choose and use seats. During a research ride at rush-hour, designers observed the two rows of bench-style seats on the current BART cars and noticed that aisle and window passengers tend to lean away from each other. “Those kinds of observations led us to make the side-by-side seats in the new cars more separate,” says Lampela. They added a narrow strip of plastic material between the seats, creating a small but visual separation. “Even something very thin that separates seats gives more social comfort.”

Even after riders voted on their favorite concept, the DesignworksUSA design faced additional scrutiny. Weinstein says riders were surveyed on the final concept, and they offered thoughts on nearly every aspect of the design, including the exterior appearance, the floor, the digital screens, lighting, handrails and stanchions, the color scheme, and, of course, the bike rack. All this feedback helped to revise the concept. But a concept is not a train.

•       •       •       •       •

In 2012, BART contracted the train manufacturer Bombardier to handle the transition from conceptual design to physical train. Bombardier believes a train design must promote safety, offer comfort, and remain within the confines of the client budget—in that order. Given that rubric, conceptual designs don’t always translate perfectly into a manufacturable train.

Daniel Deschenes, an industrial designer at Bombardier who supervised the bid and the start of the BART project, says it’s common for small design details to get tweaked during the manufacturing phase. Whether it’s the foam used for cushions or the protective material on the back side of the seats, many little changes are made, often due to cost constraints. The manufacturer also has to pay attention to things like the weight and quantity of the materials being used, like stanchions and handrails. “The weight you add you carry each and every day for 30 or 40 years,” he says. “That’s a lot of energy.”

Another rendering of the new BART cars; the first 100 are expected to begin service in 2017.  (Courtesy BART/Bombardier)

Though most of the changes to BART’s design were small in scale, some bigger ideas from the conceptual phase didn’t pencil out. One design idea included a rim of light around the front face of lead train cars that could change based on the route—yellow for the Pittsburgh/Bay Point line, for instance, or orange for the line connecting Richmond and Fremont. It was a good usability concept, says Deschenes, but the price point for the light technology was just too high. “The technology wasn’t there yet, so we had to remove that feature.”

The evolution of train design is somewhat slow, especially compared to an industry like personal automobiles, says Deschenes. That means new technologies and products—from light rims to train-length digital displays to curved screens—can be hard to implement. “The non-recurring cost is really a different story in our industry than, for example, the car industry, where you can spread it over two million units,” he says. “We can’t do that.”

Even the all-important seat layout is up for review in BART’s cars. Though Deschenes says this part of the design is usually set in stone by the time a train project nears prototyping, Bombardier had to adjust the placement of wheelchair space so it removed only two seats rather than three. “Revenue seats,” as they’re known, are important to transportation authorities, so Deschenes and his crew made it work. The BART design is getting close to final and the project is edging its way toward production, but even after more than five years of ideas and designs and adjustments, more changes are practically guaranteed by the time the first cars start rolling.

•       •       •       •       •

In April, Bombardier built out a full-scale half-car model for BART to show off to its customers. The sample car made the rounds to different stations throughout the Bay Area for riders to see, enter, and try out. Though this seems as close to a final product as you can get, it’s actually just another step in the long process of surveying the public about the design.

Weinstein says the agency continued to collect feedback from people about the design at these events, especially from wheelchair users and bicycle riders. The placement of the floor-to-ceiling stanchions in the center area between the doors came under fire from wheelchair users, who found them difficult to maneuver around. Bicyclists worried that the proposed three-bike rack might not provide enough space. Weinstein estimates that nearly 35,000 people have provided feedback or survey results during the five-year design process. And the process continues.

“As much as you stare at a set of specifications or a rendering for hours on end, you don’t always see everything,” he says. “And now we’ve had tens of thousands of eyeballs on our work, and people see things that we don’t see, or have different needs than we have in our use cases.”

At its June meeting, BART board members voted to approve some last-minute changes to the proposed design. Bombardier is scheduled to deliver 10 pilot train cars in the summer of 2015 for testing. As a result of the recent concerns over wheelchairs and bicycles, two different internal layouts will be manufactured—one with the poles moved two more inches off center to create more room for wheelchairs, and another with both poles and bike racks removed to create larger open spaces. BART is expected to test these pilot cars in revenue service in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Ultimately, the first 100 new trains are expected to arrive and begin service in 2017, with the remaining cars—for a total of up to 1,000—to be delivered on a rolling basis through 2023. Exactly how these trains will look is almost finalized, but the back-and-forth design and manufacturing process may continue right up until the first new BART cars arrive. Which is probably for the best. The BART riders of the 2050s are depending on the right decisions being made today.

This article is part of ‘The Future of Transportation,’ a CityLab series made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

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Theriault unvels Maine-themed car design

Posted: Saturday, September 13, 2014 6:00 am

Theriault unvels Maine-themed car design

Associated Press |

PORTLAND (AP) — NASCAR driver Austin Theriault’s car is sporting a Maine-themed paint job in the blue and white colors of the state’s flagship university.

The Fort Kent native’s car, unveiled Friday, features a lobster and a lighthouse on the driver’s side, and a moose, trees and blueberries on the other. The blue and white colors are those of the University of Maine Black Bears.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014 6:00 am.

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Organization to design car, help poor countries

Men in Kenya ride in a Basic Utility Vehicle. The Basic Utility Vehicle Baylor organization will design a similar vehicle in competition. The design may be incorportated into future models used in Africa.
Courtesy Photo

By Viola Zhou

As many people in Third World countries walk through hills and ponds in a struggle to get water and goods, engineering students at Baylor University are hoping to make a difference by building vehicles that can bear large amounts of weight and run on rough roads.

The effort is charged by BUV Competition, an event taking place in April next year organized in Ohio by the Institute for Affordable Transportation.

“The organization will design and build a vehicle specifically for solving transportation problems faced by the Third World,” said Flower Mound junior Sarah Johnstone, a mechanical engineering student who is president of BUV Baylor.

Johnstone said this organization is about applying what is learned in class and making a permanent impact on these African people.

“I believe there are a lot of students on Baylor’s campus who have this kind of enthusiasm,” Johnstone said. “But they have no outlet because Baylor has never had a project like this before.”

Dr. Douglas Smith, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is the faculty adviser for BUV Baylor. He said a more durable and cost-effective design of students’ vehicle may be incorporated into cars the competition organizer will manufacture in Africa. It is also possible the students’ original design will be used.

Smith said another benefit to having students participate in this kind of program is they can identify themselves as a part of humanitarian outreach activities.

The organization plans to complete the design in the first half of this semester and finish the whole vehicle before the competition in April. But money and space are the two challenges it is facing now, Smith said.

“We have to get somebody to look into fundraising and see whether we can get enough funds to be able to purchase things for the car,” Smith said. “And we have been looking for a place on campus where students can go between classes and be able to work on the car.”

He said he is confident solutions will be found to get the organization started.
Smith said he first came up with the idea to set up a BUV organization in Baylor because he saw an enthusiasm among engineering students in applying what they have learned to help others.

“It is a perfect fit for Baylor with a Christian mission,” Smith said. “Perhaps students here with a similar mindset are looking for a project they can work on and apply their engineering knowledge to help in some way.”

Johnstone said she jumped on board when she first heard this idea from Smith.

“I’m very passionate about helping people and using my skills to benefit other people and that’s what BUV stands for,” she said. “It’s all about utilizing your skills and applying what you know and doing what you can to help other people.”

The organization already has a design team composed of three mechanical engineering seniors and one electric engineering senior. Many other students have shown interest in participating as news of the project spreads.

Crowley sophomore Joshua Engle, an engineering major, is attracted by the concept of BUV after attending a briefing session.

“It is an organization that really has a practical purpose for humanitarian cause,” Engle said. “You can actually use your engineering skills to help people who don’t have the materials and power to help themselves.”

Johnstone said the membership is not limited to engineering students.

“We are going to accept whoever wants to be involved,” she said. “If they don’t have any experience with tools, somebody can teach them, and they can learn on this project how to build these vehicles.”

Smith said he expects BUV Baylor to last for years, but his first goal is to be ready for next year’s competition in Ohio.

“That would be successful just to get the group together for this common cause of building a car,” Smith said. “But certainly to get a car running in April and compete, that would be excellent.”

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Ford car makers wear ‘age suits’ to design for older drivers

Among the many new innovations in computerized vehicles, including driverless cars, displayed at the Intelligent Transport Systems conference in Detroit this week, Ford Motor Company is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its “age suit.”

The auto company is designing cars for an aging population by using specialized suits to make anyone’s body feel 20 to 40 years older. The custom-made suit was first developed in the 1990s.

The wearable items add about 14 kilograms and simulate neck stiffness, joint pain, back problems and various eye conditions — issues taken into consideration by ergonomics engineers while conceptualizing new vehicles.  

“It really does give you an appreciation of some of the limitations,” said Nadia Preston, a Ford ergonomics engineer who has worn the suit. “I found just taking simple steps was a challenge, getting in and out of the vehicle.”

She said the third-generation suit helps designers understand the needs of an aging population, while the designs benefit everyone.

“Nobody ever complains the gauges are too large or ‘Wow this is too easy to read,’” she said. “It’s going to serve all walks of life.”

John Piruzza and his wife Giuseppa are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a new Ford Lincoln, and said when shopping for a new car at their age, certain features become a priority.

“If you drive long distances, you have to have a nice comfortable car,” said Piruzza. “You open up the door, it’s nice and heavy, that tells you the car is built solid.”

The CBC’s Lisa Xing tries on a special glove that mimics hand tremors. (CBC )

These are the same issues Scott Ohler, a sales manager at Performance Ford Lincoln in Windsor, said concern older customers.

“Usually they’ll come in with a complaint about a vehicle they currently have—too low to the ground, hard time getting out, we’ll use that as a point of reference and look to make recommendations on what they’re driving currently,” said Ohler.

Each detail of the cars, including the placement of handles and design of the steering wheel, is carefully considered.

Special suit to understand pregnant women

Ford also uses what it calls the “empathy belly,” another suit that helps engineers understand the limitations pregnant women experience in their third trimester.

It also adds 14 kilograms and gives the person wearing it the appearance of being pregnant, while limiting their mobility and comfort.

CBC Windsor’s Lisa Xing give the suit a try. Check out our video as she takes us through the experience.

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Chandler’s Local Motors debuts 3D printed car this week (Video)

September 8, 2014 — Local Motors co-founder and CEO John “Jay” Rogers talks about his company and their new 3-D printed car.

Chandler-based Local Motors hopes to mass produce this 3D printed car.

Hayley Ringle
Reporter- Phoenix Business Journal


Chandler-based Local Motors is making the first 3-D printed car this week in Chicago using a large-scale manufacturing 3-D printer.

The car is being printed and assembled live at the International Manufacturing and Technology Show in Chicago, the largest machine tool show in the Western Hemisphere, said Local Motors’ co-founder and CEO John “Jay” Rogers. The process started Sunday and will finish Friday.

“We are the first company to make a 3-D printed car using carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic,” Rogers said. “The seats, body, chassis, dash, center console and hood will all be 3-D printed.”

Check out a time-lapse video during the prototype printing process last week by clicking here.

The low-speed car will run with an electric motor and drive no faster than 40 miles an hour.

The car’s design was chosen from among 200 entries by thousands of voters in the company’s project challenge a month and a half ago.

The winner is Italian designer Michele Anoe, whose Strati model will be made into the first 3-D printed car using the large-scale manufacturing printer.

Watch the video above to learn more about Local Motors’ 3D printed car.

The printer was designed and built in partnership with Local Motors, Cincinnati Inc. and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The actual printing process takes about 44 hours from one 3-D printer.

If all goes as planned, the car will be driven Sept. 13.

The goal is to commercialize the Strati within the next year and sell it for $30,000, Rogers said.

While a typical car has 25,000 parts, the Strati has just 25 parts, he said.

Hayley Ringle covers technology and startups for the Phoenix Business Journal.

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Looking ahead: Designing for in-car HMI

In Part 3 we looked at the present and the past — in this section we look ahead into the near future.

Hard and soft interactions

Before we discuss our thoughts on the best approach for in-car interactions, we will touch upon the types of interactions that exist in the in-car environment.

In-car interactions can be split into two distinct types: hard and soft.

Hard interactions can be defined as deliberate manipulative actions performed by the driver. Examples are: changing the drive position using a button, using an infotainment system via a GUI or inputting location data into the sat-nav.

Soft interactions can be defined as the actions performed by the machine as non-deliberate inputs provided by the user. Self-cancelling turn signals are an example of a soft interaction — where the machine autocompletes a sequence of actions without any user input.

The latter type of interaction especially is coming to prominence with the advent of embedded interior sensors and the notion of the connected car. Some of the possibilities have been exploited with contextual information displayed in HUDs (Heads-Up Displays), auto dimming of interior lighting, and even experimental tracking of closed eyelids. As an aside, we feel soft interactions require the greatest amount of care and appropriateness in execution since there is a thin line between being assistive and in being a distraction.

We believe that combination of meaningful hard and soft interactions is the key to getting the best out of HMI in a car.

Hard and soft interactions

In the above sketch we have laid out what could be the set of possible interaction paradigms. This outlines some of our own research into near-future interaction possibilities using current technology. The interaction paradigms are informed by some of our research into the automotive sphere at the present and by predictive analysis such as the “Gartner Hype-Cycle” below.

The Hype Cycle for emerging technologies. Source: Gartner (July 2013)

“A machine is beautiful when it’s legible, when its form describes how it works. It isn’t simply a matter of covering the technical components with an outer skin, but finding the correct balance between the architecture of the machine… and an expressive approach that is born out of the idea of interaction with those using the object.” – Konstantin Grcic (2007), via

We will now delve into each of the above interaction paradigms

A. Haptic controllers with embedded touch surfaces: hybrid interfaces

Let’s take a closer look at the i-Drive controller that BMW employed in the late 2000′s.

Early BMW i-Drive Touch, late 2000′s

In the video above, note the issues with modes — affordance and mapping a circular motion into a linear output on the screen. BMW went on to introduce the improved i-Drive Touch in 2013 to alleviate some of these issues by introducing a touch interface on the control knob itself (as shown in the video below).

This form of hybrid interaction presents a significant improvement because it allows more active and tangible control of on-screen GUI.

B. Touch screens with haptic feedback

Touch screens are being put forward as the sole modes of control in automotive HMI, as demonstrated in the large-screen iterations in the Porsche 918 and the Tesla Model S.

Although they appear to offer a simple alternative, they are in fact problematic with respect to learnability, as discussed earlier. They can also be very distracting, because the driver has to rely on visual feedback all the time and cannot form a muscle memory or map of the controls over time.

An interesting set of experiments being carried out at Disney Research points to the way forward, where tactile rendering algorithms are used to simulate rich 3D geometric features (such as bumps, ridges, edges, protrusions and texture) on touchscreen surfaces.

If applied meaningfully, this could allow a muscle memory or ‘feel’ for controls to develop over time. This technology can be seen at Tactile Rendering of 3D Features on Touch Surfaces.

C. 3D Gesture control with visual aural haptic feedback loops

Using gestures to control certain aspects of HMIs is an exciting concept. This is primarily because it presents an opportunity to bring back the direct control and feedback which existed in early cars, although it is not without problems.

The sensing of 3D gestural data is getting progressively easier, not only because of low cost sensors and processors, but also as better algorithms become available.

3D gesture control as a concept is also taking root in people’s minds, because of gadgets like the Leap Motion and Kinect controllers.

We can detect not just macro changes in physical characteristics, like nodding, facial position and hand gestures, but also micro changes like eye movements. However, the new interaction patterns emerging from low cost computer vision have not been fully cataloged and understood, which poses a challenge when mapping and learning a gestural interface.

There are literally hundreds of 3D gestures possible and it takes time to learn and understand a set pattern and thus in its present state cannot be relied on as a pure interaction — especially with regards to safety.

This was indeed a key issue in our initial experiments using both the Leap Motion controller and the Kinect as primary modes of in-car control. We found, as with any new control, gestural interaction is not necessarily intuitive. The rich feedback of physical interactions — clicking buttons, the movement of levers, gears falling into place — has not translated well into the fuzzy digital space. “Minority Report” style interfaces remain a fallacy (The fallacy of a “Minority Report” style interface).

Also watch a concept using the Leap motion controller as shown below from Denso and Chaoticmoon. There are no buttons — only visual feedback is employed — which introduces the problem of fine grained control and learnability.

This issue with fine grained control has been the focus of research institutions over the last few years and we find this exploration by Disney research to be amongst the interesting ones — ”Aireal — Interactive tactile experiences in free air“.

The AIREAL device emits a ring of air called a vortex towards a user’s hand. The vortex can impart a force on the user’s hand, enabling a range of dynamic free air sensations.

Here they prototype a new low cost, highly scalable haptic technology that delivers expressive tactile sensations in mid air as part of their long term vision for creating large-scale augmented environments which can deliver compelling interactive experiences everywhere and at anytime.

D. Voice controlled Interfaces

Voice based interfaces have occupied imagination ever since the pop culture exposure to the eponymous HAL 9000 and more recently in the movie “Her”. Though we are far from achieving human-like conversations with machines, due to continuous advances in natural language processing and recognition, the last few years have seen a number of high-fidelity consumer applications seeing the light of day (in essence this is a form of AI though some people might argue that it is not — a strong case of the ‘AI effect’ ).

Siri and Google Now in mobile OS’s have also been playing a strong role with in-car interactivity with companies such as Nuance supplying their software expertise to manufacturers such as Ford — seen in their Sync range of HMI.

The promise of voice control lies with two factors, one in replacing physical and digital controls moving into the land of no UI, where one can freely converse with HMI and secondly minimising the distractions which come from the manual operation of HMI, targeting increased safety.

Vocal interaction design — a new challenge

It is easy to say that voice could be a no-brainer in terms of next generation user interfaces, but we need to critically understand implications before designing for the same. In our research we find the following factors (among many) to be quite important to consider;

1. Discrete and continuous control: This is the difference between the on and off states of a button and the continuous rotation of a knob. Voice can play a large role in functioning as an effective discrete control e.g. “turn on radio” or “radio”, but may not be as effective as a continuous control while changing volume, which operates over a range e.g “Increase volume… make it higher… higher…”, as it operates as an abstract, analogue, inexact notion.

We then get into the fuzzy area of actually allowing a user to set presets such that a computer understands what he/she is trying to achieve or time based learning where the computer understands intention by gauging past interactions. e.g. “Higher” can mean increase by 20 percent. This fuzziness could lead to increased confusion and frustration if not dealt with carefully. (An interesting meta study into voice interaction and distraction can be found here).

2. The problem with “Strings” and “lists”: There is a challenge in dealing with the input of strings of sentences (alphanumeric data entry e.g Sat-Nav) and cognitive load it poses on a driver.

Though one would think this is where voice input could be ideal, by eliminating the need to enter text via a keypad, studies point to the contrary. Research carried out at the MIT AGELAB and the New England Transportation Center, point out that the distraction and engagement levels of voice are comparable to that of manual operations and the subjects of the study rated these parts of voice interfaces to be as demanding as using knobs and buttons.

“The destination entry task was the most time consuming, requiring an average of 111 seconds to complete in the first two studies. Task completion time was not a matter of problematic speech recognition, as most of the time the system had little trouble interpreting drivers’ voices. Rather, it was a matter of interface design.” – Seeing voices

The complexities in the interface design arise from many multimodal demands posed by the technology. Among them are having to remember lists of information as spelt out by the interface. One of them is a behavior called the ‘orienting response‘ — which often took the form of subtle, seemingly unconscious shifts in posture as the driver spoke to the HMI. A case of personification of technology.

A way to effectively deal with the above issues as found by the study is by offering appropriate confirmations — both visual and aural. Treating a person as a whole rather than just focussing on targeting the ear and voice.

The orienting response often relies on visual feedback to the verbal input on the driver’s part. For instance, Apple with it’s CarPlay has tried to address the issue by deactivating the user interface whenever possible. But the implications of these modes of automatic behavior on part of the interface have not been studied in detail as yet.

3. Recognising emotion in voice: This seems to be the next step in Natural Language processing — where mood and emotion are triggers for in-car reactions. (Approaches being taken by Google and Nuance)

E. Soft interactions aided by computer vision

The ability of cameras to track micro-movements in pixel data allows sensors in the car’s interior to detect a driver’s physiological data. This can produce both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous reactions (with a deliberate time delay).

By synchronous reactions we mean immediate and real-time reactions to changes in physiology, like the movement of a driver’s eyelids or reactions to gaze detection.

Infrequent movement can signify a tired driver and thus a car might prompt the driver to take a break or offer the driver directions to the nearest motorway services.

Asynchronous reactions are time-based. For example, tracking a driver’s heart rate over a journey and presenting them with hot spots where there are data spikes. Much like how a car’s fuel consumption over a journey could be mapped and studied, we can study and learn from physiological data.

Capabilities in the new “Kinect” to detect micro-fluctuations in physiological data

Eulerian video magnification for detecting heart rate through non-invasive means.

The Kinect One and ‘Eulerian video magnification’ have both been used to non-invasively measure heart rate (BPM) in a research setting. Happily there is already an element of consumer trust when it comes to such personal metrics — a survey carried out by Cisco Systems revealed that 60 per cent of car owners would be willing to share biometrics such as fingerprints and even DNA samples if it would improve car security.

F. Soft interactions — contextual information on secondary displays supported by eye/gaze tracking

We could break the visual emphasis towards a central console and provide displays for the driver based on when data is required (temporal) and where it is required (spatial).

For instance, information can be broken down into a number of displays, to provide turn-by-turn navigation data when a driver requires it, perhaps using HUDs. This information can also be displayed where the driver is looking, via gaze detection techniques.

What technological implementations have we seen so far?

The first main implementation is the use of secondary displays in cars, like HUDs, for providing information on or near the driver’s line of sight have been in use since the late 1980s.

Landrover Transparent bonnet

The LandRover Discovery invisible bonnet concept is a more recent idea, where a combination of contextual on-road information and actual off-road imagery from grille cameras is viewed through a HUD. Digital immersion through the use of cameras is something we expect to see more and more in in-car HMI, used mainly by augmented reality.

In a similar vein, the BMW “Vision Future Luxury” speaks about the “contact-analogue” HUD for the driver which augments the real-world view by projecting information directly within the line of sight. Buildings, traffic signs and hazards can be highlighted directly in the real-world environment, selectively directing the driver’s attention to specific information.

Then we have gaze detection or eye-tracking displays, where specific portions of the GUI become active depending on where the driver or passenger is looking (spatial reactions). This has the potential for minimising distractions and, coupled with the temporal reactions, can be quite powerful.

It’s early days yet, but quite a few companies are working to integrate trackers into driver assistance systems, tackling issues like driver fatigue, especially for large commercial vehicles. For instance a Caterpillar Seeing Machines collaboration. These systems are built using a combination of software (face and gaze tracking algorithms) and hardware (cameras and processing units to integrate with on-board assistive systems).

In a similar vein, Tobii has eye tracking systems which they have experimented with in cars and games.

Contextual Empathy

We’re still at the dawn of the in-car UI space and it’s worth remembering that there’s more to how you interact with your car than a UI on a screen, as demonstrated previously.

While we do see a future for the screen, and by appropriation, smart devices in in-car experiences for example, a more tailored approach has far greater potential, both in conjunction with and free from any platform bias.

The in-car space needs to mature into something that is as sophistically defined and crafted as that of the smartphone. As with smartphone and app design, context and the user need to be at the forefront of in-car HMI design, but they are so often overlooked. A person driving a vehicle is in a very different situation than a person sitting on their couch at home. This is where the term ‘contextual empathy’ comes from; understanding and designing for a specific situation.

Take maps, for example. Maps and navigation are clearly of use in the automotive space, but that doesn’t mean simply putting a ubiquitous service like Google Maps onto a screen. A driver has far less time to digest a map than a pedestrian, so the selection of which information to display when must be carefully considered. There’s perhaps less of a need to show roads that are not part of the route to the destination. Tom Toms and other such devices have already adopted the same contextual thinking — they are bespoke, tailored devices for the specific context. You certainly can’t send emails or Facetime anyone from them.

“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Safety is of course a major consideration which makes designing for the in-car HMI unique to other UIs. Many recent articles have raised safety concerns about screens in cars, namely the potential distraction to the driver (eg Matthaeus Krenn’s excellent A New Car UI Concept). Safety is paramount, but these articles focus on one scenario; that of the driver while they are driving. There’s more to the in-car experience than the driver and more to it than the driving — the automobile and the drive are a romantic and aspirational experience after all. That’s where the importance of understanding context comes back into play.

Encouragingly, during their presentation at the Build Conference at CES 2014, Microsoft acknowledged a difference in what one should expect from driver engagement during a drive versus the stationary context. Though only a prototype, Microsoft seemed to have done some solid field testing with their in-car concept.

An in-car experience will primarily involve the driver, but they won’t always be driving. There’s the getting into and out of the car, the waiting in traffic and a plethora of other situations. How about the person in the passenger seat, the kids in the back and even the family dog in the boot? What about the car that communicates with the city and responds to the environment? A quality, safe, enjoyable and beautiful car HMI will cater for all of these stories and more.

This is a consideration Renault played to in their unveiling of their Initiale Paris model at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2013. Renault’s HMI housed a rear-seat touchscreen enabling passengers to be part of the navigation, or “journey exploration” process. LandRover’s recent Discovery Vision concept also briefly alludes to empathetic user design, offering variations on the experience for the passengers.

Even with intentions of safety, there will be times when a visual platform, i.e. a screen or HUD, is the best way to communicate.

There are a number of technological and practical ways to facilitate this requirement, everything from the obvious — multiple screens for each passenger, to more abstract ideas such as stereoscopic screens where driver and passenger see different, but relevant information, and gaze detection whereby the system detects who is looking at the screen, with the driver taking priority. These are just a few ideas of many.

So, already we can see that the in-car context demands fresh thinking and design, from both a UX and UI perspective. And this is where so many issues arise in the current approach; a re-appropriation of the (touch) screen into a new context, the “empathy” lost in translation. The UI can help solve these practical and functional issues, but it also goes a long way to resolve some of the emotive problems associated with in-car HMI.

Design can be functional and beautiful

A great car has function and it has beauty, and should excel in both.

Beauty is a commodity in car design, a commodity that is sold so evidently in contemporary marketing campaigns, typically based on the vehicle’s beauty and the lifestyle it can offer. Indeed, the beauty of a car is often favoured over its functionality.

“It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people’s lives.” – Don Norman

We feel that all design should be as beautiful as it is functional — there is inherent beauty in the purity of function. Dieter Ram’s work for Braun is a great example.

TP 1 radio/phono combination, 1959, by Dieter Rams for Braun

Why not bring the beauty of the car into the HMI, blurring the lines between the car’s exterior and interior design with that of the UI to create one unified piece of design? A UI can be a part of the form of the entire car, not just a simple module or an island of interactivity in the interior.

There are some challenges with this approach. The lifetime of a car production from concept to market tends to be five years or more, so logistically it might be difficult to keep the design thread that runs through different departments intact. This goes someway to explain the sudden emergence of smart devices in cars as we discussed earlier.

“Good design is aesthetic design — The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.” – Dieter Rams – Commandments for good design

However, we believe that if the exterior styling, interior styling, trim and UI design teams work together from the very outset, this unified aspiration is achievable.

In fact, it’s encouraging to learn that Mercedes’ research and development department already utilise teams of designers and researchers with backgrounds in art, design, user experience, engineering, psychology and software to conceive new features and designs under a unified approach (source).

The connected car model assumes a software focussed approach, but there may be further physical and hardware characteristics beneficial to a meaningful HMI. While creating a bespoke HMI for a specific vehicle or a range of vehicles has its challenges, it does ensure that the design does not date during the production lifespan of the car. As design changes are made by other teams during the project, you can react and adapt — this applies to functional, physical and visual design.

We see three main ways in which this process can be facilitated:

1. Design in regular system updates. This can help support the software of the UI, but should not be relied upon. Even if the car had regular and reliable access to the internet so that the OS / UI had systematic updates (a benefit of the mobile device connected car model), you can’t rely on the user taking action on, or even understanding, this process. Furthermore, a sudden change to the software, visually or otherwise, could cause serious safety concerns.

2. Design the HMI and UI in a templated, modular fashion from the start, so that the design can be re-appropriated as the project progresses. This could also help in re-purposing or rebranding the experience for other models, as is already the case for many of the physical controls and is how the car stereo system has worked for years.Do not design for trends but instead design for function and context so that the aesthetic does not age badly, or indeed at all. It is impossible to predict trends five years in advance, nor should you try. Besides, the driver has to live with the HMI and UI for the lifetime of the car far beyond the launch of the vehicle.

3. Do not design for trends but instead design for function and context so that the aesthetic does not age badly, or indeed at all. It is impossible to predict trends five years in advance, nor should you try. Besides, the driver has to live with the HMI and UI for the lifetime of the car far beyond the launch of the vehicle.

Design tends to age badly if it succumbs to a trend. Conversely, there is something enjoyable in associating a car with its era, arguably an inherent part of the automotive experience and heritage. The HMI should be a part of that, as long as it is at one with the entirety of the car’s design.

Best practise should be a holistic focus in influencing the design, which could include accessibility standards and automotive-specific standards, to branding to the context of the environment to traditional design best practices such as layout and hierarchy. Putting some real thinking and commitment into the beauty of the in-car UI is in itself a step forward and something we are particularly excited by.

So what does it take to achieve a functional and beautiful in-car HMI / UI and how does that differ from any other?

This is something we have explored in our studio, both in internal projects and working with one of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers. We will share this in detail in Part 5.

This series of posts, courtesy of ustwo, has been carefully researched and written by a team of passionate designers as well as petrol heads comprising of Tim Smith, Harsha Vardan, David Mingay and Barnaby Malet.

Follow the links below for more in the series:

  • Part 1: The near future of in-car HMI technology
  • Part 2: HMI: Where we are now and where we were
  • Part 3: Looking at now: Changing patterns in HMI
  • Part 4: Looking ahead: Designing for in-car HMI
  • Part 5: Coming soon

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Fremont police car design wins first place

Posted: Saturday, August 30, 2014 10:00 am

Updated: 1:01 pm, Sat Aug 30, 2014.

Fremont police car design wins first place

Associated Press |

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — The Fremont Police Department’s new blue-on-black cruiser design is getting attention.

The design, which first hit the streets a year ago when the department rolled out two new Ford Taurus cruisers, was adapted to a new Ford Explorer six months ago, the Fremont Tribune reported ( ).

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Saturday, August 30, 2014 10:00 am.

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General Motors To Introduce A ‘Hands-Free’ Car


Well driving just got a bit easier. General Motors Co. (GM) has plans to introduce a Cadillac model that you can drive without using your hands – or feet.

In two years time, the company will release a model armed with a “Super Cruise” feature, which will allow highway drivers to drive without their hands on the steering wheel or their feet on a pedal. During a speech at the Intelligent Transport System World Congress in Detroit, Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra confirmed the technology will take over steering, acceleration and braking at highway speeds of 70 miles per hour or in stop-and-go traffic.

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GM has yet to release the name of the model that host the feature.

Barra also announced that by 2017, GM will become the first automaker to equip a model with what she calls “vehicle-to-vehicle” technology that allows cars to communicate with others armed with similar abilities to warn of traffic hazards and improve road safety. GM will make the vehicle-to-vehicle feature standard on its 2017 Cadillac CTS sedan, and will debut in the second half of 2016.

Barra said during the speech, “With Super Cruise, when there’s a congestion alert on roads like California’s Santa Monica Freeway, you can let the car take over and drive hands free and feet free through the worst stop-and-go traffic around… If the mood strikes you on the high-speed road from Barstow, California, to Las Vegas, you can take a break from the wheel and pedal and let the car do the work. Having it done for you – that’s true luxury.”

But not every is so keen on the idea.

Michelle Krebs, an analyst with researcher in Royal Oak, Michigan says, “There is still a concern by consumers about the safety of their vehicles because there’s been so many recalls. This is going to take a while to win the confidence of consumers.”

The announcement comes at a time when automakers around the world are racing to develop self-driving cars to combat global gridlock and help reduce traffic fatalities. GM’s chief technology officer told reporters there are now upwards of 1.1 billion vehicles on the road worldwide. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study estimated that the money that the impact of car crashes translates into more than $870 billion a year.

GM also announced that it’s joining with Ford Motor Co, the University of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Transportation to create 120 miles of “intelligent highways” around Detroit. The roads will be equipped with sensors and cameras that enable roads to communicate with cars to alert drivers to hazards and congestion.



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