Next Generation Touchpad with Haptic Feedback Makes Control Tasks Easier and Safer


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AUBURN HILLS, MI--Nov. 11, 2013: How do you make the growing number of safety and convenience features in a vehicle easy to operate so that the driver is distracted as little as possible? Answers to this question are among the core competencies of the international automotive supplier Continental. Its experts in the human-machine interface (HMI) in vehicles are currently pursuing a new path: they have developed a touchpad with active haptic feedback. This is an input device with a touch-sensitive surface and its primary purpose is to control screen menus. The inspired feature of this touchpad is that it confirms a driver's action with tactile pulses – similar to what you would experience with a button. "We see a lot of potential in touch control. Together with active haptic feedback, the touch principle is particularly efficient. This is confirmed in a test study carried out at the University of Kassel," said Eelco Spoelder, Manager of the Continental business unit Instrumentation and Driver HMI during the VDI Conference, "The Driver in the 21st Century" held in Braunschweig, Germany.

In the U.S. alone, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that there are at least 3,000 deaths annually from distraction-affected crashes—crashes in which drivers lost focus on the safe control of their vehicles due to manual, visual, or cognitive distraction. And it estimates nearly an additional 400,000 are injured in related crashes.

"The touchpad with active haptic feedback demonstrated a significantly positive effect in the study," said Prof. Ludger Schmidt, Head of the Human-Machine-Systems Engineering Group in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Kassel. "On average, a driver's gaze is diverted away from the traffic 23 percent less when haptic feedback is switched on. And the control tasks set were performed on average 33 percent quicker than without active haptic technology."

These values were investigated using a driving simulator. The 32 study subjects had to perform standardized lane-change maneuvers in accordance with ISO 26022. At the same time, the drivers were expected to call up and activate functions from the screen menu using the touchpad. Performing secondary tasks at the wheel can significantly affect driving safety. The longer the driver's gaze is directed at the screen, the longer the vehicle is being "driven blind." The detailed results of the study were presented at the 10th Berlin Human-Machine Systems Workshop.

Haptic Feedback makes for operating safety

The touchpad with active haptic feedback was positioned low down within reach of the right hand. Its purpose is to operate a screen on the center console. This split between screen and operation avoids hand-eye coordination with an outstretched arm to control a menu using the finger. Instead, the driver's finger, supported at the wrist, glides across the touchpad without the driver having to see it. As relevant fields are reached on the screen menu, they are optically accentuated – in a similar way to a cursor. At the same time, the touchpad produces a tactile mechanical pulse when a menu field is reached – also known as a haptic search. If the driver presses the touchpad using a certain amount of pressure while a menu field is selected, the instrument confirms this input with an active pulse. "This process means that there is virtually no risk of a driver inadvertently pressing something," explains Andreas Bruninghaus, head of concept development for haptic controls and center consoles at Continental in Babenhausen.

The touchpad with active haptic feedback is a new element of the human machine interface in the vehicle, according to Bruninghaus. "It supplements Continental's existing human-machine interface strategies, which also include the active accelerator pedal and the head-up display. The greatest possible benefit to drivers will be a holistic HMI concept that supports drivers in their tasks in many situations. The touchpad with active haptic feedback is an efficient enhancement of the operating options."

With sales of €32.7 billion in 2012, Continental is among the leading automotive suppliers worldwide. As a supplier of brake systems, systems and components for powertrains and chassis, instrumentation, infotainment solutions, vehicle electronics, tires and technical elastomers, Continental contributes to enhanced driving safety and global climate protection. Continental is also an expert partner in networked automobile communication. Continental currently has more than 177,000 employees in 46 countries.

The Automotive Group with its three divisions Chassis & Safety (sales of approximately €7.0 billion in 2012, 34,500 employees), Powertrain (sales of approximately €6.1 billion in 2012, 31,000 employees), and Interior (sales of approximately €6.4 billion in 2012, 33,000 employees) achieved sales of approximately €19.5 billion in 2012. The Automotive Group is present in more than 170 locations worldwide. As a partner of the automotive and commercial vehicle industry, it develops and produces innovative products and systems for a modern automotive future in which cars provide individual mobility and driving pleasure consistent with driving safety, environmental responsibility, and cost efficiency.

The Chassis & Safety division develops and produces electronic and hydraulic brake and chassis control systems, sensors, driver assistance systems, airbag electronics and sensors, windshield washer systems, and electronic air suspension systems. Its core competence is the integration of active and passive driving safety into ContiGuard®. The Powertrain division integrates innovative and efficient system solutions for vehicle powertrains. The comprehensive range of products includes gasoline and diesel injection systems, engine management and transmission control, including sensors and actuators, as well as fuel supply systems and components and systems for hybrid and electric drives. Information management is at the very heart of the Interior division, which provides a range of products that includes instrument clusters and multifunctional displays, control units, electronic car-entry systems, tire-monitoring systems, radios, multimedia and navigation systems, climate control systems, telematics solutions, and cockpit modules and systems.

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