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Human computer interaction

14/06/2017

Happiness project: things are running smoothly for touch technology

As part of a collaboration with different industry and institutional partners, the Mjolnir research team from Inria Lille - Nord Europe has developed a completely tactile dashboard for cars. A prototype has been produced and was presented for the first time at the Geneva International Motor Show last March.

A collaborative project

The car of the future may not yet have arrived, but its dashboard certainly already exists. Specialised in human-computer interaction (HCI), the Mjolnir research team has contributed significantly to the development of the first prototype of a completely tactile dashboard. The project, called Happiness (for Haptic Printed Patterned Interfaces for Sensitive Surfaces) brings together manufacturers (Bosch, Arkema, Walter Pack, ISD) and institutions (University of Glasgow, Gaiker, Inria Rennes - Bretagne Atlantique and Inria Lille - Nord Europe). The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) is, for its part, at the origin of the project."The aim was to print vibrators on a flexible medium. The idea of the dashboard quickly emerged in terms of an industrial purpose ", Thomas Pietrzak, research lecturer at the University of Lille - sciences et technologies and head of the Happiness project at Inria Lille - Nord Europe remarks.

This diversity in the partnerships is another source of motivation: "The fact that industrialists are involved in this project assures us of its realisation ", Mr Pietrzak affirms. From a financial perspective, Happiness has been backed by the European Union through H2020 funding, which has provided €400,000 to the Inria's Nord region and Breton teams.  As a result, two post-doctoral researchers have been recruited for a total of three years as well as an engineer for one year. With everyone contributing according to their specialism, a close collaboration has been established with the Rennes site, which has worked on the perception side. The Lille researchers then took charge of the HCI aspect and the software development of the prototype.

Mojave car prototype, designed by the students 2016-2017 of ESPERA Sbarro school. Mojave has been exposed at the Salon de l'Automobile 2017, Genève. The dashboard has been created as part of the Happiness project.

Modelling of a unique prototype

Starting with a blank page, everything remained to be done: "With cars, it is important that drivers stay concentrated on the road. Sound and touch points of reference must therefore be recreated so that they know what they are using. We therefore asked ourselves how we could recreate the sensation of a physical button, even a useful sensation that was not possible with a physical button ", the project manager specifies. Another problem: dealing with the limits of human perception and of the equipment used. Far from being an obstacle, it is an opportunity: "This is very interesting, as we must know everyone's working methods in order to establish the link between these two parameters ", the researcher affirms. In order to produce a functional prototype, Julien Decaudin, the project engineer, created the software architecture to facilitate the development of the application. He explains: "We used a computer the size of a credit card connected to printed circuit boards containing chips. These specialised chips pick up the finger position and send back vibrations. What remains is to write the code so that these parts communicate with each other. "

Once the finger position sensors and vibrators were printed by the CEA and the plastic casing produced by Walter Pack, the prototype was integrated into a concept car from the Sbarro design school and presented to the public for the first time at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 2017. All that remains is to improve it. According to Christian Frisson, post-doctoral researcher: "We wanted to achieve the best possible interaction with this dashboard: am I touching a button? Which one? Has the action been triggered, etc? " Three types of tactile feedback are envisaged: vibrations, programmable friction and the deformation of the materials in order to bring the buttons out from a completely smooth surface. With regard to the latter two aspects, a lot still needs to be done.

However, potential developments are not limited to the automobile sector. As Thomas Pietrzak explains: "We could envisage adding this tactile feedback to computer peripherals such as a mouse or a touchpad. The medical sector could also be interested. Completely smooth surfaces would be easier to clean in the operating theatre, for example. "

Mojave integrate in its dashboard some functions of « touch sensing » and « haptic feedback » created in the Happiness project.

Keywords: Mjolnir reasearch team Car Dashboard Haptic Tactile Human-computer interaction

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