The more screens the better, right?

Modern cars make use of screens more than ever before. Central displays are larger (some up to 15 inches, like on the Tesla Model 3) and analog instrument clusters are going the way of the dodo in place of digital tachometers instead. The latest Hyundai study, though, takes the onslaught of screens to a whole new level; the brand’s newest virtual cockpit even has screens on the steering wheel.

Dubbed "the future of the car's cockpit," the Hyundai study shows an i30 with a central touchscreen, a digital instrument cluster, and yep, two small screens on the steering wheel, located directly behind the driver's thumbs. It even has a manual, making things all the more convoluted. But why the i30?

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"We chose the i30 to demonstrate that innovations are not limited to higher-segment vehicles," notes Regina Kaiser, Human Machine Interface Senior Engineer at Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center. "Hyundai intends to prove that innovations need to be achievable for a broad customer base."

According to Hyundai, this virtual cockpit should make life easier for drivers. "We are continuously working on new technologies that make our cars perfectly intuitive and user-friendly," says Kaiser. The screens are large, configurable with up to five "buttons" per display, and provide haptic feedback for ease of use.

Gallery: Hyundai Virtual Cockpit 2019

This is Hyundai's fourth iteration of the virtual cockpit. The company showed its first version in 2015 but has been marginally tweaking it ever since. The steering wheel mounted-touchscreens are new, and the digital instrument cluster is now a multi-layer display (two screens separated by six millimeters) that create a 3D-like effect. The dual screens, supposedly, are easier for the driver to see.

The virtual cockpit pictured here won't go into production. Instead, Hyundai will integrate components of the concept into future vehicles.

Source: Hyundai

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There is an ever-growing variety of information shared with the driver in the cockpits, especially on the displays.

To date, Hyundai's steering wheels and cockpits have undergone a major development process and the technology continues to evolve. But Hyundai is constantly working on future solutions to integrate the latest and upcoming communication features into its cars.

Major stages of cockpit development

Since 2015, there have been four significant project phases in the development of cockpits at Hyundai. An evaluation of Hyundai’s steering wheels and cockpits, as well as those of competitor cars, showed a broad variety and a substantial number of buttons. It became Hyundai’s target to reduce this number and to create a clean interface. The brand therefore opted to replace the rocker switches with two touch panels to make its steering wheels more intuitive.

In a project phase in 2016, Hyundai went a step further by replacing all hard keys with touchpads. This new development led to increased clarity and flexibility. The 2017 development phase even brought flexibility to a new level by making the cockpit easily customisable for users. Hyundai then replaced the touchpads of the 2016 model with two displays.

In 2018, Hyundai focused on improving the existing concept of touch displays with haptic feedback on the steering wheel. Hyundai consequently used the steering wheel of the i30 model.

Virtual cockpit technology continues to develop

In the latest development stage, the instrument cluster display was changed to a multi-layer display (MLD®). It allows a new, very natural way of attention control. In contrast to conventional displays, which can only display their contents on one level, the MLD® consists of two displays, which are stacked behind each other at a distance of 6mm. The distance between the two displays allows visual 3D effects: one part of the graphic is shown on the front display and the other part on the rear display. In the area where the graphics overlap, the impression of an object in space is created. This effect is used to guide the user’s attention with less distraction. The information most relevant for the present situation, for example the speed limit, is shown in the front display to catch the driver's eye. 

The pieces of information indicated on the steering wheel displays change depending on the current instrument cluster menu level and also depending on the driving situation. Furthermore, the customer can change the layout and the displayed “shortcuts” for entering specific applications tailored to his or her individual needs. The driver can customise the settings with up to five buttons per display, adjusted to preferences and frequency of usage, much like the layout of a smartphone. Customisable cockpit settings are becoming increasingly important as they offer drivers maximum freedom and strongly improve the user experience, making it more intuitive and comfortable.

The driver distraction study

In the latest development steps, the 2018 steering wheel has been integrated into a real car. Recently, Hyundai conducted a driver distraction study with the Würzburg Institute for Traffic Science (WIVW) to evaluate the usability of the latest innovations while driving. “We are doing research on the learnability, intuition and potential driver distraction of the virtual cockpit,” says Regina Kaiser. For all use cases, the results of the study clearly show that Hyundai’s new cockpit is significantly below the limits of the globally acknowledged motor vehicle safety associations AAM and NHTSA. Even for the more complex use cases, all test persons indicated only a slight distraction, which was perceived by them as noticeable but not as strenuous or interfering with the driving task. Furthermore, the participants of the study extolled the attractive design, the visual and haptic feedback and the reduced and intuitive structure of the prototype.

Freely configurable steering wheel displays enhance flexibility and are easily adapted to fit several vehicle models and segments. At this point, Hyundai is still in the early prototype phase of the new virtual cockpit. However, this is an important milestone and the virtual cockpit offers a platform for exciting new features as the technology continues to evolve. The end of the road has not been reached yet. Hyundai will use the results of the current clinic and integrate them into its future development plans.