Camilla Grane in the simulator used to conduct the experiments.

More feeling for the driver

Published: 2 April 2013

As cars become more and more advanced it also requires a technological simplicity. The systems to handle while driving should not be too difficult for the driver. This is something that Camilla Grane, researcher in Engineering Psychology at Luleå University of Technology, has a solution of.

– Today, there are so many features in the cars. Many companies have chosen to put them in a mini-computer with a screen that has a menu system. The question is how to navigate the menus, how to interact with the computer without risking the driver's safety?

The functions Camilla Grane describes is not directly related to the actual driving. They are more about comfort and entertainment. For example navigation equipment, air conditioning, telephone, music and radio.

Client: Volvo Cars

Camilla Granes research is a collaboration with Volvo Cars and the article was recently published in Transportation Research Part F, an internationally recognized journal for research in car environment.

– Some automakers have chosen touch screen, others a rotary knob. My article is about a rotary knob with haptics, ie, with information through touch. The driver feels for example a click between each menu step. It can be compared with stove knobs where each temperature has a notch, but then it is mechanically. We have used an electronic knob, ALPS Haptic Commander. This means I can program exactly how each step should feel so the driver can be able to separate them, says Camilla Grane.

In order to support the sense of touch, Camilla Grane added digital textures to the rotary knob, which she and her research team at LTU are the first to do. The textures make it possible to find in the menus without the driver having to take the eyes off the road.

Visual aid versus sensory

By tests in a driving simulator could Camilla Grane see that the driver who had only a visual aid and an infinitely knob, generally dropped the control of the car, ran over the wrong file or into a ditch – because they had to look at the screen. The second test group had no visual aid. They would instead use a haptic knob and could thus keep the focus on the road.

– The second group had to analyze what they felt. This made their task more cognitively demanding. They missed signs even though they looked at the road. It is customary to talk about look but fail to see, looking but not seeing. Even if you keep your eyes on the road you can be a dangerous driver, because you have limited resources and can not have full focus on all the senses simultaneously.

Camilla Granes research suggests that a combination of visual and haptic information in which both senses can be used is the best solution. Many automakers are using a visual interface today and therefore is the research of interest to the industry at large.

– Haptics can be used to provide subtle information that does not disturb the environment and can serve as a good complement to other information. We already have information through the sense of touch in some everyday objects, such as the phone vibrates. I am absolutely convinced that we will use haptics more and more to come, says Camilla Grane.