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CUE, GM’s in-car infotainment system. (General Motors)
CUE, GM’s in-car infotainment system. (General Motors)

Gizmos and Gadgets

Making in-car technology more user friendly Add to ...

Information overload. That’s what so many new-car owners are facing.

Information and communication technologies, a new report from just-auto-com notes, are burying us in information and in-car capabilities, thereby causing a big increase in driver distraction. So the pressure is squarely on car makers to simplify in-car technologies – to make interacting with the latest gizmos a simple affair, one that does not distract the driver from the driving.

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The endgame, many believe, are natural voice recognition systems. Already we’re seeing them, too. There is Ford’s Sync, Kia’s UVO and Toyota’s Entune, says the report. The car you can converse with naturally is the next step. That and simplified touch screen systems such as General Motors’ new CUE.

CUE, says GM, is an easy-to-use touchscreen interface designed to minimize driver distraction with an uncluttered design and intuitive controls. As Automotive News reports, CUE is a “telematics touch screen that allows drivers to use the sort of flip, spread and drag commands commonly used on most smartphones and tablets.” CUE combines touch controls with technology that allows users to simply speak commands, such as ordering up a destination for the navigation system in a conversational voice.

"We heard people ask over and over: ‘Why can't it just work like Google or like my smartphone?’” Matt Highstrom, an engineer who helped develop CUE, told Automotive News. “So we took the best of the technologies that people already are familiar with.”

Of course, GM is hardly alone. Buyers today expect to be connected when they’re driving, though being connected can be an unsafe distraction. Thus, car companies are working at connectivity solutions that don’t get in the way of the driving.

At Ford, the solution is wrapped up in the MyFord Touch/MyLincoln Touch approach with Sync voice controls. Ford’s approach combines a touch screen with secondary controls in the steering wheel and dashboard, along with voice controls. Ford’s Sync voice control system, done in collaboration with Microsoft, is as good as any in the industry and better than most. For instance, just say “call home” and you’re dialling and soon talking. Excellent.

Meanwhile, upscale German auto makers seem to favour a like-minded “controller” approach to managing in-car gizmos. The latest versions of Audi’s Multi Media Interface, BMW’s iDrive and Mercedes-Benz’ Command Control all centre on some sort of knob as the primary way to dial in a function, though secondary buttons are also used, as well as voice commands. Audi’s latest A8 also adds a touch pad interface. The problem is that channelling so many functions through a main controller generally requires the user to make a number of discrete inputs just to do something as simple as find a radio station. This sort of complexity begs for better voice commands.

Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, has pioneered the use of a joystick to help drivers manage in-car functions and it works quite well. The square joystick in the latest Lexus models fall right below the driver’s right hand in the centre console and it is surprisingly user-friendly. The joystick operates a cursor on the display screen that falls in the driver’s eye-line even while looking to the road ahead.

Of course, that’s just a sampling of what auto makers are doing. The winner of the technology race as it relates to controlling functions and gadgets will be the auto maker who creates a car with whom you can simply have a “smart” conversation.

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