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Automotive study indicates value of haptic feedback

Dr Orestis Georgiou, Director of Research at Ultrahaptics, previews the initial results of an academic study at the University of Nottingham. It suggests that adding mid-air haptic feedback to gesture-controlled interfaces in automotive settings reduces error rates, reduces “eyes off the road” time and is preferred by users.

The haptics slider was probably the easiest, because as you moved it gave you a click-click-click feedback.

You don’t even need to look, you can kind of feel. So the haptic feedback helps with that.

It [haptics] gave me more confidence that I chose the correct number.

These were some of the things participants told a recent academic study exploring the use of mid-air haptics to enhance in-car user interfaces. The research was a collaboration between Ultrahaptics and Professor Gary Burnett, Dr David R Large and Kyle Harrington of the Human Factors Research Group at the University of Nottingham, UK.

Audi TT driving simulator

The study used a medium-fidelity driving simulator with a right-hand drive Audi TT car positioned within a curved screen.

The full study has been submitted for publication later in the year, but at Ultrahaptics we got a preview of the some of the initial results. They suggest that the participants’ positive reactions to mid-air haptics was supported by data across a range of metrics.

Ultrahaptics’ technology uses patented algorithms to control ultrasound waves, enabling the creation of haptic sensations in mid-air that can be felt by the user (in this case the driver). The 48 participants in the study did four simulated drives with four different types of in-car interfaces: a touchscreen without haptic feedback, a touchscreen with mid-air haptic feedback, gesture control without haptic feedback, and gesture control with mid-air haptic feedback.

Ultrahaptics haptic feedback technology inside a car

Ultrahaptics’ Touch Development Kit projected haptic feedback onto users’ hands. A dashboard was created using a bespoke application and presented on a 7-inch LCD screen.

The researchers tested two different types of interactions: a slider bar and button presses. User experience was measured across a whole spectrum, including eye-tracking (“eyes off the road” time), accuracy and efficiency, and participants’ subjective assessment.

Haptic feedback results in reduced “eyes off the road” time

Results from the full study suggest that adding haptics to gesture control reduced total glance time (or “eyes off the road” time) for both buttons and sliders. The effect was very striking in the slider task, with gesture control plus haptics resulting in an average 25% decrease in glance time compared to touchscreens.

Reducing glance time improves driving performance and vehicle control, thereby lowering the risk of accidents.

Bar chart shows haptic feedback in cars results in less “eyes off the road” time Bar chart shows haptic feedback in cars results in less “eyes off the road” time

For buttons, gesture control alone actually resulted in an almost double total glance time than touchscreen controls. (One participant said, “Gesture control without haptics was difficult because you couldn’t tell what you were activating.”) However, when ultrasonic mid-air haptic feedback was added, the total glance time reduced to a level similar to that of the touchscreen tasks.

The researchers also noted that in the study, for control purposes the touchscreen was visible during gesture-controlled tasks (it showed an abstracted view of the button and slider selections). This could have attracted visual attention even though it was not strictly required.

Haptic feedback can reduce error rates

For the slider task, adding haptic feedback reduced the number of ‘overshoots’ for both the touchscreen and gesture control, with gesture control together with haptic feedback resulting in the greatest accuracy overall. (The same effect was not, however, evident in the button task.)

Slider overshoots chart which shows adding haptic feedback reduced the number of ‘overshoots’ for both the touchscreen and gesture control

Users prefer gesture control with haptics

Users prefer gesture control with haptics over gesture control without haptics for both buttons and sliders. Users also preferred gesture controls to touch controls overall for the slider task.

The report noted that it was unsurprising touchscreens were the most popular interface for button selection, given how widespread they are in everyday life. Yet despite this, users still preferred gesture control with haptics for the slider task, and it came a close second for the button task.

Chart shows users prefer gesture control with haptics in cars

Chart shows users prefer gesture control with haptics in cars

Clear potential for using gestures with mid-air haptics in automotive

While the full report and analysis of all collected data is not available yet, this initial report shows clear potential for using gestures coupled with mid-air haptics in an automotive setting. It shows potential for reducing visual demand and improving accuracy (for slider tasks). Users also expressed preferences for this mode of interaction.

In-car interfaces are an exciting but also uniquely challenging form of user experience to design. This initial study is just the start of exploring how mid-air haptics can enhance automotive user experiences, and has unveiled some fascinating research questions.

If you are interested in becoming one of the OEMs and tier 1 suppliers currently working with us to explore how mid-air haptics can work within a vehicle ecosystem, or in joining our Academic Program, please contact us.

Dr Orestis Georgiou is a researcher and an author of over 50 publications. He leads and oversees Ultrahaptics’ scientific collaboration network with universities and research labs around the world.

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