Research Summary Pt. 1 The state of play

Thesis Research Summary

The goal of my project is to explore how we might be able to create a safer driving experience by creating new input and control devices. Their are currently two schools of thought in the industry in relation to this field.

The state of the industry.

One is that taken by Mercedes, BMW and most "traditional" automotive manufacturers. This approach is that the driver should be kept in the driving position at all times, and a physical device in the center console should be able to control almost all functions of the HMI system.


Mercedes Bens C-Class Interior


This system has it's benefits and drawbacks. It is very easy to maintain a correct posture for driving, which we might take to mean the drivers shoulders are kept back and parallel to the steering wheel. There are drawbacks in these systems too however. They generally have a steep learning curve, and interaction patterns are not consistent between manufacturers or with modern smart phones. This learning curve also means that when driving a new car a driver may be a greater safety risk due to the HMI system.


The other school of thought is that of Tesla. They have taken the stance that all physical controls should be replaced by one central touchscreen interface. This is quite bold, but also not surprising given their silicon valley pedigree.



Teslas design philosophy stems from the fact that they position themselves as a piece of technology rather than a piece of machinery. The interface makes use of modern interaction design patterns, styled on principles of ios and android mobile phones, and all physical affordances are replaced with digital counterparts.

This too has it's drawbacks. Learnability (the ability to internalise the interface's mental model) is still quite low in such interfaces, and the method of touching the screen for all interactions means that the driver has to lean away from their seat to touch the screen, meaning they are taken out of the driving position. More alarmingly is that all touch interactions require the user to look at the screen, taking their eyes away from the road.

Research Approach

My approach to the research phase of this project has been a little bit different to other students in my class. I have a fairly narrow topic already, and so for me the research phase of the project has been about really digging deep into academic papers related to cognition, distraction, and the fundamentals of user interfaces. In the following section I will summarise some of the key findings I have made.  

In the following three posts I will document what I found in relation to Distraction, Cognitive Load, and Multiplexing Input