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When your Car Gently Massages You

The car of the future will assist us: it will help us wake up and relax, safely guide us through traffic and appeal to our senses in optimal fashion. The experts at Volkswagen Electronics Development are working hard to make this goal a reality. Part 2 of our series on user experience trends.

Stephanie didn’t have a great night of sleep before setting off for work this morning. This fact is noted by the car, which is connected to the health data from Stephanie’s watch. “Should I help you wake up more?” asks her personal assistant. Stephanie says yes and leans back. The assistant sets the interior lighting in the cockpit and in the doors to bright daylight. Stephanie’s favorite song pours out of the speakers. The autopilot scans the surroundings for other traffic participants. No one in sight. The drive can begin.

Stephanie is the fictitious driver who helps the experts in the Electronics Development department at Volkswagen with their work. She helps them envision the needs of the customers of tomorrow and beyond. It will still be a few years before today’s development work shows up in series production. But one thing is already certain: drivers like Stephanie will have functions at their disposal that make the drive more relaxing, entertaining and productive than now. In short, they will be able to count on their vehicle’s assistance.

The vehicle knows how the person is doing

One of the experts from the development team is Melisa Erdogan. She says this: “We’re working on ensuring that future vehicles will adapt optimally to people’s moods and physical states.” This will be made possible by having items such as smartwatches or fitness trackers transmit information about the pulse rate and level of activity to an artificial intelligence in the car. “Based on the data, the vehicle can estimate the condition the driver is in and energize or relax them accordingly,” says Erdogan. If the user consents, the personal assistant might, for example, carry out an energizing program in which the driver’s favorite song is played while a massage function in the seat is started. At the same time, bright, yet pleasant lighting will noticeably boost the occupants’ wakefulness.

“Of course customers decide for themselves whether they want to share fitness data from their smartwatch with the vehicle. You can also configure the energizing mode manually,” says Erdogan. What sounds like wellness could become a reality with autonomous driving. People will be able to intervene at any time of course, but they can also leave the driving to the vehicle. That opens up a multitude of possibilities. According to Melisa Erdogan, one example would be watching movies during the drive. “We’re already testing how streaming portals could be integrated in our cars of the future,” says the developer. Users will also be able to post social media content and write emails while on the go.

Nina Jellentrup and Jürgen Stietz discussing a new idea. “Our goal is to coordinate the car’s different signals optimally with each other,” says Stietz

Developer Jürgen Stietz is working on putting a small orchestra at the disposal of future drivers. It doesn’t have anything to do with music, however – it’s about ensuring that information reaches the human senses in the best possible way. “Our goal is to coordinate the car’s different signals optimally with each other. They should harmonize like the members of a good band,” says Stietz. Take navigation: information on the display and spoken instructions should interact in such a way that a human driver will perceive and process the information at the ideal point in time. If the voice comes from the left and says “turn,” that would simultaneously indicate the new direction of travel. “That would be ideal, particularly for people with left-right confusion. But it would also help other drivers, because they can process the information more easily,” says Stietz.

Development work in action: Nina Jellentrup and Jürgen Stietz (left) with colleagues Jens Feldhaus (center) and Vitalij Sadovitch (right)

Optimal information for the driver is not just a question of convenience – it’s also a safety issue. Developer Nina Jellentrup works on augmented reality head-up displays, which are positioned in front of the driver in the windshield. One of their advantages is that, in the future, navigation arrows could be displayed precisely where the route is actually heading. “Drivers then no longer have to look from the road to the display and back again. They can concentrate fully on the traffic,” says Jellentrup. If the vehicle is driving itself, even more functions are conceivable. “Let’s assume we’re on vacation in Paris, and the car is driving toward the Eiffel Tower. In this case, the head-up display could show additional tourist information,” says Nina Jellentrup.

Back to everyday life. Stephanie has finished work and is ready to go home. She’s tired after a long day and wants to relax. “The car could also help with that in the future,” says developer Melisa Erdogan. If Stephanie consents, her assistant sets the interior lighting to a warm yellow tone for the way home. A bit like a sunset. Instead of the energetic song from the morning, the car plays soothing classical music and starts a gentle massage. Stephanie arrives at home completely relaxed.

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