Researchers develop the car of the future

Future Car

Professors Veikko Surakka (left) and Roope Raisamo and researcher Arto Hippula show the Volvo SUV in which the new interactive technology will be installed.

Researchers in Tampere are developing the car of the future which can be steered without constantly looking at the controls and indicators. The car manufacturer Volvo has donated an SUV for the research purposes and Nokian Tyres the use of their testing ground.

The Unit for Computer-Human Interaction at the University of Tampere (TAUCHI) and the Unit for Human-Centered Technology (IHTE) at the Tampere University of Technology research and develop the car of the future in the international HapticAuto research project.

The project is funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, together with companies and universities. The total budget is 1.14 million euro until the end of 2013. The share of the University of Tampere is one million euro.

The aim is to develop new ways of conveying information to the driver about the condition, activities and services of the car and to keep the driver’s attention on driving.

– We are developing new tactile feedback devices suitable for the car environment and we will attach them to the car seat, steering wheel and other surfaces, says Professor Roope Raisamo who is the director of the research project.

The driver and the passengers can receive multi-modal perceptions of for example the traffic, traffic jams and weather conditions.

How can you drive a car safely without looking at the controls and indicators?

– A car is of course driven by the steering wheel and the pedals but when you use the air conditioning and the radio you should not need to look at the monitors as you now have to do. At present, you do not know which button you are pressing if you are not looking. We will show those controls and monitor readings with the help of touch and voice.

Professor Veikko Surakka, who is in charge of the psycho-physiological basic research in the project, says that laboratory studies will be used to show how large cognitive burden the new devices cause in people.

– The aim is to make driving easier. Technology should really make things easier not more difficult as is often the case with new technology.

When you become irritated by the music from Radio Suomi in the traffic jam, what does the driver of the future car do in order to change the channel?

– For example, she or he can just brush against the surface of the console. We analyze different ways of interaction for performing such choices, says Raisamo.

– What you do now is you look at the radio and then start fiddling with it, Surakka adds.

– And it takes time, car horns are tooting, the trees get bigger and the car shakes, researcher Arto Hippula dramatizes.

The driver of the future car concentrates on driving and changes the channel just by touching, wiping, tapping or talking. The researchers offer different options for doing things.

– The aim is to make a haptic auto, Surakka clarifies.

When can you expect that the car developed by the researchers in Tampere can be found at car dealerships?

– As we are talking of Volvo, it will not take too many years, Arto Hippula believes.

Roope Raisamo estimates that five years is the time when the innovations will be seen in the finished product.

– What we are building right now is already in a real car. The company chooses how it will take the results further, but they will be patented together. So what we are developing will also be the university’s inventions.

As far as is known, researchers at the University of Tampere have never before been involved in the development of automotive technology.

– User interfaces have been designed to machinery but not to cars. Interactive technology has been used in forestry and mining and drilling machines but not yet in cars, says Raisamo.

Text: Heikki Laurinolli
Picture: Teemu Launis
Translation: Laura Tohka

This story was originally published in Finnish in Aikalainen 9/2012