If you've ever wondered why your vehicle's center console display can't operate in the simple, intuitive fashion of a smartphone, then Cadillac may have good news for you.
The luxury carmaker this week rolled out CUE (Cadillac User Experience), an in-vehicle dashboard hub that enables users to operate entertainment and information controls with gestures and touches. By employing capacitive touchscreen technology, haptic feedback, and proximity sensing, the new system will enable users to control in-car devices with the taps, flicks, swipes, pinches, and other movements that have become familiar to users of smartphones and tablet computers.
"What the smartphone did for the cellphone, CUE is going to do in the infotainment space," said Micky Bly, engineering executive director for General Motors.
The technology will debut in 2012 in the Cadillac XTS and ATS luxury sedans and in the SRX luxury crossover vehicle.
During an introduction last week in San Diego that was laced with superlatives, Cadillac engineers referred to the new technology as "dramatic," "holistic," and "magical." The company said that the advancements stem from CUE's use of capacitive touch, haptics, and proximity sensing, none of which have previously been used in automotive center console displays.
GM engineers said they expect those three technologies to be the keys to creating a better user experience. Incorporation of a capacitive faceplate, for example, gives users the ability to employ the kind of gestures that are commonly used on the Apple iPad, they said.
Haptics, meanwhile, provide "micro-motion," a tactile mechanical pulse, which enables drivers to feel when they've engaged the LCD display screen, even if they're not looking directly at it. Finally, two proximity sensors in the head unit give drivers and passengers the ability to make the screen reveal its contents merely by moving a finger to within eight inches of it.
To provide the computing power to tie all the technologies together, GM engineers employed a Linux operating system running on a tri-core ARM 11 processor, with each core each operating at 400 million instructions per second (mips). The system's computing power is said to be three times that of any existing infotainment system.
GM engineers at the rollout said that CUE was in development for three years, in part because it broke ground by using technologies that were previously not employed in autos. Capacitive touch, in particular, has not been used in vehicles until now because of questions over its ability to serve in "automotive grade" units.
"We had to develop a touch screen that would work in Michigan in winter and Phoenix in summer," Bly told Design News. "Others have not pursued the technology in the past, but we decided to take on the challenge." Bly added that GM's success with automotive-grade capacitive touchscreens was largely due to a cooperative effort with an unnamed supplier. Bly said that GM would reveal the name of the supplier next spring.
Bly added that Cadillac's technical choices for CUE were an offshoot of studies the company did with drivers. "Typically, we figure out what technologies are in place and then give it to the design guys to package it," he said. "But here we focused on the customers and their needs."
Haptic feedback, for example, was a product of numerous studies that GM did with drivers. The studies revealed that users felt disconnected from their driving chores when they had to reach out, touch a screen, and keep their vision on it for a second or two. "We decided we could solve the problem by giving them a little push-back when they touched it," Bly said.
GM engineers said that one of their goals was to develop a system that users could easily learn, without having to consult a vehicle manual. For that reason, they also employed a voice command system that allows users to communicate with CUE without taking their eyes off the road. "It's natural -- conversational," noted Jeff Massimilla, program manager for NextGen Infotainment at GM. "If you want directions, you just say, 'I'm lost. I need directions.' "
To simplify the system, Cadillac also reduced the number of buttons needed to control radio and entertainment functions from 20 on most high-end vehicles to just four in CUE.
"This spans a variety of needs -- from those who want simple and uncluttered (systems) to those who want to use all the capabilities," Don Butler, vice president of Cadillac Marketing, told us. "
Other automakers have used elements of CUE's technology previously. Ford's Sync system, for example, has made extensive use of voice recognition. And Tesla Motors is said to be planning to incorporate capacitive touchscreens in its Model S electric car.
Plans are for all Cadillac vehicles to employ CUE at some point in the future. At the moment, there are no plans for other GM vehicles to use the technology.
"Eventually, this technology will become the standard," Bly said. "Everyone will be chasing us when they see the richness this provides."
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