Hyundai has shown off its vision of cockpits of the future which could radically change the way we interact with our cars. Unlike some of the pie in the sky concepts we've seen in the past using mind control or AR avatars to aid you, Hyundai's approach is a lot more tangible.
Fitted to a Hyundai i30 development vehicle, the biggest thing you'll notice is a pair of displays on the steering wheel itself. Backed by piezo actuators for haptic feedback, these displays are designed to make it easier to control the functions of the car, allowing customisation and adaption to features in use.
Introduced to us by Regina Kaiser, senior engineer, Human Interface at Hyundai, the version we see here is the result of progressive development over the past few years. The aim is to reduce the number of buttons on the steering wheel, which are generally growing in number as the functions cars offer become more advanced.
But don't these displays cause a huge distraction from the road?
Kaiser detailed that the design was tested in a safe environment, with eye-tracking tech used to gauge the response of drivers - and it was found that there wasn't an increased distraction compared to a conventional steering wheel.
Hyundai's path to this point involved a number of different steering wheel styles. One removed all the buttons and just used touch pads, another had small displays, but the most recent iteration expands those displays - so they're big.
The size might look slightly odd, but sitting behind the wheel it's certainly very easy to hit those big buttons with a thumb, with great positive haptic response. You have to physically press the icon, getting that tactile response, you can't just tap like you might a smart phone.
The system works in tandem with a digital driver display and a large central display. The aim is to have the steering wheel offer controls you need when driving, with the display mainly catering for functions you need when you're parked.
With a combination of the two, you're able to customise the controls you're shown on the steering wheel with a simple drag and drop system, offering customisation that static buttons don't. Yes, many cars offer a single programmable button (Audi, BMW, for example), but imagine being able to delete the things you never use, so you'll never accidentally touch them.
Beyond the steering wheel, Hyundai's vision uses a full digital display for the driver. At first glance it shares the same design language as you you'll find in Hyundai's recent models - like the new Santa Fe display - but this display is much more advanced, and totally different to other digital displays on current cars.
It uses a multi-layer display, so rather than being 2D, the imagery is more holographic. That allows a clever layering of information in some instances, but also means that the central speedo, for example, looks like it has depth like an analogue dial. You can't see it in photos or in video, but sitting in the driver's seat, it looks like the future of in-car displays.
Again, the whole thing can be customised and dynamically changed based on what's happening and that also extends to the colour. That's nothing new, many cars now offer custom colours, but Hyundai has a fun and tactile colour shape you can spin to change the hue across its displays.
The central display is also interesting. Kaiser was keen to point out that this was a development model and that the hardware might not reflect what you'd find in a production car - but wanted to highlight the small lip to the bottom of the display.
This was put there because users of touchscreens in cars often look to rest a hand somewhere - basically to steady the hand when interacting with the display. In this case that lip provides a physical anchor, making it easier to touch the display without your hand jiggling around.
That was one of the things we highlighted with Audi's MMI Touch system - when driving, it can be hard to hit the control you want. Although Hyundai say that the central display is mainly for using when you're parked, adding this lip will make it a lot easier for passengers.
Will we actually see this system in a production car? That remains to be seen, but it's an interesting spin. Most cars still use plenty of buttons on the steering wheel, but the type of touch displays seen here could be a much more flexible and dynamic interface in the future.