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UX Brighton goes for a spin

On Tuesday, Brighton’s regular(ish) UX Brighton meetup took on an automotive theme for the evening. As a strong personal interest of mine, I’d been hoping to create an event around automotive design for a while, and after discussing the theme with UX Brighton founder Danny Hope, he agreed to let me curate this month’s meetup.

With Alex helping to organise the venue and ticketing, we managed a great turnout at the Lighthouse in Brighton. Here’s a quick run-down of the evening’s talks (which I’ll hopefully follow up in more detail soon).

Dashboard design and the cockpit experience

Our first speaker was Phil Higgs, design manager for the User Experience Design team at Jaguar Land Rover. Phil oversee’s a team responsible for the instrument cluster and dashboard design for the JLR group, including the development of future concepts and experiments with future technologies.

After sharing how he came to interior design from a background in video games, Phil shared the processes employed in the industry, and the close relationship between designers, engineers, and materials manufacturers. One of the biggest challenges for automotive designers in the time-to-market for their work. Even the smoothest projects take between 3-5 years from studio to showroom, meaning technology choices are usually far out of date by the time they reach the customer.

Knowing which technologies to pursue is one of the many challenges facing those working on the in-car experience for global vehicle manufacturers.

Moving on from the current processes and challenges, Phil shared some of the future innovations in dashboard design; projected surfaces, advanced voice commands, gestures, and augmented reality navigation systems we’re likely to see in car cockpits in the next few years.

The future is automated

Following Phil was Nick Reed, Principal Human Factors Researcher at the Transport Research Laboratory. Nick has been researching the future of automated vehicles for several years, and shared his research techniques and findings, as well as the opportunities for UX designers to solve some of the problems posed by automation.

Nick started with a video showing the crude simulators of the past, comparing this to the immersive technology currently used by TRL to test the effects of autonomous driving on operators and passengers. Of the methods of automation, the most promising for reducing road congestion is the ‘road train’; vehicles connected together electronically, following a lead vehicle who dictates destination and speed.

Vehicles join the train for a toll charge, joining the line of vehicles behind the lead driver. Once connection is confirmed, the operator can leave the controls while their car maintains speed and direction. Due to the connections between vehicles, stopping distance can be safely controlled meaning the space between cars can be greatly reduced. This is the real driver for automation; road capacity. Although fuel efficiency can be improved through the use of road trains, it makes only a margin difference at motorway speeds. With populations (particularly in the developing world) growing, the demand for personal transport is outstripping the rate of road building and improvement.

Road trains come with a number of interaction challenges; indicating train availability to the driver, managing payment, safety alerts, and fault tolerance all require years of research and development before legislation will allow the first automated systems to roll out.

I’m hoping to get time to write-up my thoughts on the topics raised in more detail soon, and a couple of writeups from attendees Luke Hay and Jane Dallaway cover some of the topics in more detail.

Thanks again to all those who came along!

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