Transforming the Dashboard
Traditionally, steering wheels take up the majority of a car dashboard—for an obvious reason. However, with the recent surge of autonomous vehicles this no longer makes sense. In the context of conditionally automated [ 1 ] driving where human drivers are only expected to respond to very occasional intervention requests, the steering wheel remains mostly unused. This has created a great design opportunity to utilise this space to improve physical comfort and productivity.
With DynaDash, the idea of a traditional dashboard has quite literally been transformed. Sensors inside the dashboard detect user gestures that minimize the steering wheel to maximize the dashboard space. The newly acquired space used to augment the dashboard with new features. With DynaDash, we explored the idea of having a 'pop-up' computer display for leisure and business purposes. Does driving a car without a steering wheel sound scary? Totally understandable. With DynaDash' quick transition speed the handover can take place in less than one second.
The final prototype was a life-sized dashboard frame manufactured from laser cut MDF, designed in compliance with the J1100 specifications [ 2 ]. The horizontal cutout ensured the frame could easily be attached to regular tables, allowing for a reliable evaluation of the dimensions. The steering wheel is powered by a DC motor that can be retracted- and extended through hand gestures. The screen can separately be maximized using a Servo-motor.
In view of the limited budget for the project, we ran into a number of issues with the mechanical movements. Initially, the torque required in operating both mechanisms proved to be too much for the motors to handle. Therefore, the rotational force of both mechanisms were magnified using a combination of rack-and-pinion systems, pulley/counter weights and springs. This was an important lesson: a preceding mechanical evaluation could have prevented this.
Enhancing the Car Experience
In line with the vision of making the car a portable work station, a contextual inquiry was conducted to discover user needs in this new way of transportation. Since autonomous vehicles are not publically available yet, we shifted our attention to similar methods of transportation like being in buses, trains and taxis. We found that while most users in similar situations stated their desire to either do work or have leisure time, they actually spent their time gazing out the window or sleeping. Related studies concurred [ 3 ].
To stimulate more effective time use, a screen was introduced. Dedicated apps were integrated in the screen to facilitate these activities. Besides the navigator, the system included a mail reader client, a voice calling service, a word processor and live news. A key feature for these apps was the ability to quickly stop or resume an activity when steering control is being handed over.
This project has allowed me to gain experience in designing systems for the future—systems that will only be adopted in 10+ years. Because of this, ideation came naturally, yet evaluation of concepts proved to be hard. An iterative design approach based on rapid prototyping (e.g. laser cutting and CAD evaluations) allowed us to simulate experiences and gather valuable insights in how things will be. With the design of DynaDash I was able to gain valuable experience and insights in applied mechanical engineering and manufacturing techniques.
- SAE International. (2016). "U.S. Department of Transportation’s New Policy on Automated Vehicles Adopts SAE International’s Levels of Automation for Defining Driving Automation in On-Road Motor Vehicles". Retrieved Dec. 29, 2017, from SAE International
- The Engineering Society for Advancing Mobility Land Sea Air and Space. (2001). "SAE J1100: Motor Vehicle Dimensions" Retrieved Sept. 21, 2015, from Public Resource Org
- Russell, M., Price, R., Signal, L. and Stanley, J. (2011). “What Do Passengers Do During Travel Time? Structured Observations on Buses and Trains.” Retrieved Nov. 05, 2015, from the Journal of Public Transportation.