Engineer Mike Hichme (left) and designer Stuart Norris (right): GM's design and engineering teams colocated in an effort to understand the customer's needs and choose the right technologies to support those needs.
I find it ironic that the factory floor has networking and communications standards to expedite manufacturing and inter operability of robotic machines on the assembly line, but the cockpits of automobiles do not! Every auto maker seems to have their own communications bus designs making it much more difficult for owners to upgrade their automotive electronics with after market products. Swap out the stock radio in late model cars and a bunch of "unrelated" dashboard features will no longer function. For example, alarm chimes and even directional signal clickers which utilize audio synthesizers in the radio's audio system will cease to function.
After market manufacturers have to include a bunch of personality interface modules for each make and model car to give their car stereos universality. All of this raises the cost to consumers, reduces competition, reduces variety and increases the complexity of mobile electronics both for the OEM's and after market.
What ever happened to standards in the consumer realm? I suppose one could argue they stymie innovation. But their lack can also stymie innovation.
I am very familiar with the experience of user interface overload in a new car. This past April, my 2000 Ford Mustang Convertible was totaled (rear-ended while parked at the curb!) and I bought a new Prius with a Nav/Ent package. The car came with a 400+ page owner's manual - plus a second 280-page manual for the Nav/Ent system. Way too much to read sequentially. So I let myself "discover" the features, pulling out the manuals only when I got stuck. A couple of examples:
- How do I get back to the standard display on the Nav screen when I have moved the display away from the car location by accidentally touching the screen instead of an on-screen button?
- What are those icons of houses on the rear-view mirror frame?
- Where is the button to change the mode for the dome light?
Fortunately, the system is basically well-designed and does not lead you astray too often. The one thing that still bugs me has to do with the Nav system's voice recognition. Being born in Denmark, I still have an accent, especially when pronouncing proper names. I live in coastal California where many street names are of Spanish roots. And the people who programmed the voice recognition may have been Japanese. A few days ago I needed to meet someone on a street named Calle de los Amigos. That was a challenge to get into the system while driving. (Most of the touch-screen user interface buttons in the Nav system are disabled when the vehicle is moving and the passenger seat is empty.)
The process described in the article really is common sense. It is sad that it is so unusual that it can be hailed as a great innovation.
That's an excellent point, Chuck. Although Cadillac has made strides over the years appealing to a younger crowd (particularly with its SUVs), it's still pretty easy to equate the brand with mostly older snow birds, most of which wouldn't know a Bluetooth connection from an iPod dock. It makes total sense that Cadillac is putting the spotlight on telematics to attract a younger audience, while at the same time, making sure what it is offering in terms of infotainment is accessible to its bread and butter customers.
Alex: The "luxury experience" was a bit more difficult to acheive here than it might be in other companies, largely because many of the luxury buyers in Cadillac's consumer space aren't big buyers of electronic gadgets. Cadillac knew, however, that they would need to appeal to a younger up-and-coming crowd, as well as the existing customer base, when they engineered CUE.
It's great to get inside the design process, and also to see the different end result in GM's case as compared to BMW. The latter has been criticized for making the user experience far too complex, with new drivers having to be trained in some cases before taking control of some of the higher-end Beemers. With Cadillac, another interesting angle is how there's some reinvention of the brand involved here. In other words, the "luxury" experience pertains in part to telematics, and integration of the user's devices (smartphones) into the driving experience.
Great insight into the back story behind the CUE, Chuck. I thought the whole process of observing customers "unboxing" their vehicles and learning how to work through all the bells and whistles was enlightening and novel on GM's part. Perhaps that close attention to the voice of the customer and requirements will actually translate into hitting on an in-car entertainment system design that people can actually use effortlessly.
Wow, I didn't know they were even considering a speed-up in the design process. It would probably give a boost to the auto industry. Part of what has made the electronics industry so hot is the rapidity of new product introduction. I know an automobile is more complicated, but I'm not sure an car's electronics are that much more complicated.
Some day, Rob, I'm sure that the auto industry will figure out a way to cut down the development time. Seems to me I attended a conference in 2001 that was dedicated to the idea of the 12-month car. I don't know whatever happened to that goal.
Interesting to see the development work GM committed to even as the entire U.S. auto industry was sinking. One note about their development work. It still seems to take a long time from concept to product in Detroit. Since a lot of this is electronics, and a lot of the system is culled from existing technology, I would think the turnaround wouldn't have to take five years.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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