Modern technologies and technological innovations have created opportunities for radical user experience improvements. In a broader sense User Experience (UX) isn’t just about your favorite smartphone app but about every product you interact with.
The product parts that people usually interact with are called Human-Machine-Interfaces (HMIs). And because people interact with them, they heavily influence UX. So future UX is also about future HMIs. In this blog post, we have gathered some real industry insights based on the projects that we work on at Motius to give you a glimpse into what the future of HMIs might hold. Before we talk about technologies like smart surfaces and augmented reality, we need to explain what HMIs actually do.
HMIs connect a person to a machine, system or device. Examples? You push a button, the screen lights up. You turn a knob, the volume increases. HMIs are supposed to handle all of these human-machine-interactions. That’s why you can also call them User Interfaces. They can be multimodal and appeal to different senses, e.g. sight, hearing and touch. While “classic” HMIs include buttons, knobs or keyboards, more “modern” HMIs use touchscreens or smart speakers.
HMIs provide several important benefits. As said, they can significantly enhance the UX, thereby supporting processes like interaction, learning or coordination. Furthermore, they can boost important aspects like error reduction, maintainability or stress.
However, if done wrong, HMIs also have the potential to ruin products completely or cause operating errors and accidents. Often poorly designed User Interfaces create such a bad UX that users do not want to interact with these machines, devices, tools, etc.
The Future Trends
Right now there are lots of ideas, concepts and visions for future HMIs. But while some of them still sound like pure science fiction, a lot of them actually are feasible in the near future. At Motius we work on a number of such projects and therefore have valuable insights to share with you. In order to share these insights, we decided to focus on two industries: the automotive and the education industry.
Autonomous driving will change the way people interact with cars. Most likely, cars will become some kind of shared multi-functional entertainment vehicles. This has to be taken into account when it comes to a car’s functions and design.
For the education industry, HMIs offer new ways to enhance learning experiences. As today’s education systems keep getting criticized, it clearly is time for some system updates.
So within the scope of these industries, we want to introduce you to the technologies that have the power to form our future.
1. Smart Surfaces
Looking at car interiors now, we usually notice a whole lot of buttons to push, levers to pull and knobs to turn. While this often is user-friendly, designers do not like it. So also to please designers but most and for all to improve UX, more and more car manufacturers are considering interactive interiors. Sounds fancy? Let us see what they could look like.
One of the most promising future trends that many engineers have for cars is the use of smart surfaces. Smart surfaces are based on textile, leather or synthetic components with built-in sensing and recognition systems. So, what you get is a pressure-sensitive textile that recognizes aspects like force, size and shape of the touch. This technology enables designers to fully reinvent a car’s functions and design, thereby changing our UX. One of the pioneers in this field is the Chinese company Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. Check out their concept video:
When smart surfaces become omnipresent in a car, there’s a variety of use cases you could think of. First of all, it would be possible to remove a lot of buttons, knobs and levers that we currently see in cars. Instead, you would create certain commands that can be executed everywhere on the smart surface and that the car would react to. The removal will be particularly interesting for self-driving cars where you have the time to fully appreciate this new UX.
Another important use case is in car seats. Since your seats could constantly recognize your seating position, your car could give you hints on when and how to improve your posture. Considering the vast amount of time that we spend sitting in cars, this feature can have a huge positive impact on our health. Not to forget that our seats will also be able to track our vital signs.
Additionally, smart surfaces include features like multifunctional screens. Because cars will be used as working, living and entertainment spaces, they’ll have large screens that are able to meet those different needs. The Chinese car manufacturer Byton gives us a hint of what future screen integrations could look like.
Together with BMW, we worked on a completely new UX in the automotive industry — the HoloActive Touch. This technology enables interaction via floating holographic controls. All you need to handle them are your fingertips. The projected got presented at the CES in 2017, check out some YouTube footage here:
So what about the education industry? There, smart surfaces will play a rather minor role, but they can still provide some important improvements.
Looking at the bad body posture of children, one of the easiest ways is to implement smart surfaces into the student’s chairs to improve their seating position (which actually might improve their performance).
Although they don’t sound very spectacular, surfaces like writable projector walls are the next step in many schools, given their insufficient equipment and lacking financial resources.
Now it is time to head over to our next technology — something that has recently created a lot of buzz.
2. Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality is an important step towards safer driving. For example, V2X communication combined with AR enables us to see through the cars in front of us. This way, we know what is happening, no matter if we’re driving behind a small car or a huge truck. Also, AR can make sure that we pay attention to upcoming speed limits, traffic signs or traffic lights.
A quiet common application area of AR in cars is navigation and maps within the head-up display. We all had times when maps confused us or we lost overview of the streets. AR helps to make maps more understandable through highlighting important signs or leading the way with augmented signs. And no matter which car you drive, you can get such AR systems by itself, e.g. the solution provided by Navdy.
As soon as self-driving cars emerge, customers will want enhanced in-car entertainment. At CES 2019, Intel and Warner Brothers presented their way of making future commutes more exciting. Through AR they make us believe that we’re driving through Batman’s Gotham Cityinstead of seeing the same scenery day after day.
Looking at education, AR has proven to enable enhanced learning. It can make information almost perceptible and thus classes more engaging. Since most of the students have their own smartphones anyway, schools might not even have to make huge investments to introduce AR to their classes.
With AR and VR in classes, one can talk of school in a sense of edutainment. Imagine a physics class where you do not just talk about planets but actually travel through space via AR applications. However, one should not forget that AR can also have negative impacts on learning. In comparison with the potential benefits though, it definitely is worth a try.
It is important to underline that we are not just talking about education on a school level but also about university or other employee-training. Especially those fields that require a lot of practice, e.g. medicine can benefit from AR. For example, students can optimize their surgery skills on virtual patients before they do their first real surgery.
By now we’ve already seen a lot of new use cases. But before we finish, let us have a look at one more technology.
3. Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs)
With smartphones and smart home devices, IVA’s are gaining more and more popularity. It’s just a logical consequence, that we now want to consider IVAs in cars. One possibility would be manufacturer-specific assistants like the BMW IPA. Using these, drivers will be able to control almost every single function via their assistants. Sounds convenient, right? Well, with cars that integrate external assistants like Amazon’s Alexa it gets even better because they will be able to entertain us.
One of our projects here consisted of developing a chatbot based interaction solution within car dealerships. Using natural language interaction, this solution allows potential customers to inform themselves about car features and prices, as well as schedule test drives.
In the education industry, IVAs will play a bigger role. One of the most promising technologies there are chatbots. They offer various application areas and therefore can have huge benefits for students and teachers.
At Motius, we are working on a “Learning 5.0” project, which aims at implementing new technologies to the learning process of young students.
Educational chatbots can help with a more individual learning experience for kids. They can provide personal tutoring, i.e. challenge high achievers and strugglers individually according to their skill levels. In general, personalization enhances student’s interaction and engagement with learning materials, which enhances learning itself.
On top of that, chatbots and other IVAs such as smart speakers can provide instant help. According to Bill Gates, they could even replace the teacher to a certain degree and make sure that students do not get stuck. Students doing their homework can be assisted by chatbots in case they need support. If a question is not answerable, chatbots like Botsify also give the opportunity to chat with teachers personally.
Looking at the often overloaded teachers, IVAs can help as well. They are able to take over most of the administrative work, so that teachers can focus on students. This means that teachers do not have to deal with cumbersome administrative tasks anymore (apart from occasional exceptions). Instead, they can focus on enhancing the individual learning experiences of their students. Snatchbot and Jill Watson, the bot which answers routine questions, are great examples of how such chatbots could look like.
However, it is important to note that it is not just kids’ education that can be improved via IVAs. If adults want to e.g. learn another language, tools like Duolingo enable them to learn via IVAs.
So these are all the insights that we are allowed to share with you for now. But trust us, there is more to come.
Apart from all the innovative use cases that we talked about, you can take away one thing: as a means for better UX, HMIs are a chance for many companies to create successful future products. Based on this blog post, there are a lot of cool innovations that might be a part of our future. Thanks to technologies like smart surfaces, IVAs and AR/VR, various industries will change immensely.
At Motius we cannot wait to experience all of that and we work hard to get there. What is your opinion on all of this? Are there any HMIs that you wish for? Talk to us about it. We would love to hear some crazy out-of-the-box ideas! Also, you can check out further readings and resources below.