NOVI, Mich.—Automotive cockpits will continue to evolve as more advanced technologies enter the interior in preparation for fully autonomous vehicles.
Auto makers and suppliers are planning for and envisioning these future interiors where steering wheels are nonexistent or can be easily tucked away and 3D touch or smart surfaces are integrated throughout the cockpit.
"We know it's coming," Mike Schoenherr, head of research and development for Continental A.G.'s instrumentation and driver HMI business unit in North America, said of autonomous driving.
He was part of a May 9 discussion on next-generation cockpits at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference.
"We don't know how long it's going to take before you really can step into a vehicle and not see any driver interface, where you're just going to sit in and become a passenger," Schoenherr said.
His firm predicts that's still "a few years out," he said.
In the meantime, drivers can expect a more gradual progression of new or updated technologies inside vehicles.
"You're going to see an evolution of technologies that continue to come into vehicles that lead us to that point when, finally, we're going to have an autonomous vehicle," Schoenherr said, adding that drivers are already experiencing that evolution today in vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warnings.
A focus on seamless transitions, where the vehicle acts as an extension of the home or office, and people can stay connected to the world, will be important, too. The consumer electronics industry has an increasingly vital role in all of this, especially as it continues to drive trends and influence user experience.
"There's a lot of emotion I think that we're still trying to bring out of the interiors in our vehicles. We are attracted to cars," Schoenherr said. "Their exteriors attract us to them, but when we get inside, we fall in love. We don't see that changing."
With more technology and connectivity inside vehicles, however, drivers are becoming more distracted behind the wheel, resulting in more accidents over the last few years. Schoenherr cited studies showing 90 percent of drivers admit to looking at their phones while operating a vehicle.
"We're living in an age of information overload," he said. "I think as interior designers and cockpit designers, we need to take that into consideration."
That means providing information to the driver in a way that is responsible.
Displays have been a common option for providing information to drivers and passengers. Head-up displays, called HUD, aren't new but have helped to keep a driver's eyes on the road, encouraging safer driving overall.
Continental has been a "big believer and investor" in those displays, Schoenherr said.
A new technology is under development that incorporates augmented reality, where aspects of the real world are enhanced with computer-generated simulations. This could make certain functions such as navigation more intuitive, he said.
Continental's OEM customers are also asking for bigger, better, more colorful and higher-resolution displays.
"Bigger displays (are) critical," Schoenherr said, adding that more surface area and simpler designs enable drivers to "get back to the road" quicker.