DETROIT – Auto makers and suppliers must intensify their cooperation on developing new generations of the human-machine interface if customers are to be satisfied and advanced, new infotainment and safety features are to realize their full potential.

So says a panel of experts at the 2007 Ward’sAuto Interiors Show here.

The human-machine interface, or HMI, is the term used to describe systems and controls the driver and other occupants use to manage the increasing amount of entertainment options and communication and safety information invading the vehicle environment.

Frank Homann, vice president of the North American Interiors Electronics Solutions Group for Siemens VDO, says it is becoming more crucial for auto makers and suppliers to closely collaborate to develop “system-level HMI,” in order to better prepare for what he says is a continual advancement of consumer-electronic devices that must be accommodated in order to satisfy consumers.

Homann espouses a “quantum leap interior” that will be adaptable to future needs and incorporate a flexible architecture that enables easy incorporation of increasingly sophisticated and feature-laden consumer-electronic devices.

David A. McNamara, president of McNamara Technology Solutions, echoes many of Homann’s points, saying “hard decisions have to be made” between HMI system engineers and suppliers and auto makers’ marketing arms, which he says can get in the way of ideal HMI development and deployment.

McNamara envisions a best-in-class HMI development effort that is cognizant of the No.1 consumer-want from HMI: ease of use for the interface.

McNamara says progressive HMI development will focus on the navigation system as the foundation feature and interface. That system, he says, likely primarily will rely on a touch-screen interface.

But he and Siemens’ Homan agree the touch screen isn’t the only solution. Homann says German car buyers reject touch screens because of the messy fingerprints often left behind, while North American customers don’t seem to mind.

For that reason, he says German auto makers will continue with dial/knob interfaces, such as BMW AG’s iDrive and Audi AG’s MMI (Multi Media Interface), despite the abundance of critics in North America and other regions.

Homann admits the first-generation iDrive and similar dial/knob interfaces were not ideal. But of the improved, less-complicated latest generation, he says, “People love it.”

McNamara says many vehicles, particularly premium brands, are likely to see a combination of interfaces, particularly touch screens and voice-command systems – if and when voice-controlled systems become more reliable and user-friendly.

“We (at Siemens VDO) are spending a lot of money on speech recognition,” Homann adds.

The two experts say the next generation of HMI must be flexible and adaptable to be able to handle a variety of upcoming innovations and expected improvements, such as:

  • Video capability, including possible projection screens in the rear.
  • Partitioned displays that generate differentiated information or content for various occupants.
  • u“Overlay” or “augmented” displays that provide several levels of information in addition to the primary image.

    Siemens, for example, has shown several innovative concepts for navigation systems that generate a virtual “path” of the desired route directly on the video image of the roadway, itself, or provide supplemental overhead satellite imagery of the route.
  • “Gestural” controls that are engaged with the presence of a hand or a glance from the eye.
  • Conversational voice-recognition systems that do not require any special programming or specific commands.