The designers and engineers behind Volvo’s all-new XC90, which will be revealed later this year, have completely re-conceived the way drivers operate their cars by dispensing with the normal array of buttons and replacing them with a large tablet-like touch screen, a head-up display and thumb controls on the steering wheel.
The result is the most modern in-car control system on the market, which is crucially easier to use, ensuring drivers will be able to keep their eyes on the road as much as possible while operating or making adjustments to the system. It also uses the car’s interior space far more efficiently and offers a range of additional benefits such as integrated cloud-based applications for music streaming and other services, such as the world’s first integrated Park and Pay application, and the ability to mirror and use Apple iOS devices in the touch screen display.
“As cars increasingly become more connected to the Internet and are able to offer a far wider range of functions and entertainment services, the way in which the driver interacts with the car’s systems is becoming progressively more important. It is essential that these services are offered in a way that does not reduce safety levels and in a manner that is easy to understand and optimized for the driving task,” said Dr Thomas M. Müller, Vice President Electrics/Electronics & E-propulsion engineering of Volvo Car Group.
The typical driver control system available in many other premium cars on the market can involve 30 or more buttons spread across a dashboard, making it challenging for drivers to locate and operate, and threatening to distract their attention.
Sensus – instinctive understanding
Volvo’s new interface, part of ‘Sensus’, incorporates the latest touch screen hardware and software to allow drivers to build an instinctive understanding of how the system works, where the controls are located and how to operate them.
“Smooth interaction without distraction has been the guiding expression for our designers and engineers. The in-car control system is designed to keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel as much as possible,” said Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo Car Group’s Senior Vice President Design.
The new in-car control system is just one of many examples of how the all-new XC90 has been designed around the needs of the people who are going to drive it.
How does the new in car control system work?
The touch screen replaces the traditional selection of buttons and controls in the centre stack with one sleek control panel. This central panel interacts with an adaptive digital instrument cluster in front of the driver, while vital information is projected on the head-up display on the lower part of the windscreen. The user interface also includes thumb-reach controls on the steering wheel and state-of-the-art voice control.
“Using the screen is so logical that it will become part of your muscle memory very quickly,” said Dr Peter Mertens, Volvo Car Group’s Senior Vice President Research and Development. “Information, navigation and media are high up and easy to check. The phone controls, application icons and climate controls are located low and are comfortable to reach and touch. All of this logic is based on extensive usability and user experience research and the latest technology.”
The layout on the portrait screen can be described as a stack of flexible ‘tiles’, each displaying a key functionality. Navigation is on top, followed by media and telephone. A thin notification band is located above the tiles, while the digital climate controls form the ‘foundation’ of the pile.
When one of the tiles on the touch screen expands on interaction, the others are compressed but still visible and instantly accessible. This makes the touch screen exceptionally user-friendly, with no need to go via a main menu when switching between functions.
“The adaptive digital instrument cluster and the head-up display make sure that the most relevant information is always available where the driver needs it,” said Mr Ingenlath.
Fully connected experience
The all-new XC90 offers customers a fully connected experience, thanks to the Ericsson-based cloud solution and the navigation system by HERE, which provides the possibility to remotely update content and simplify the entire car experience.
Sensus includes a broad selection of cloud-based applications with a branded look and feel. The selection of cloud-based services, which may vary depending on the market, includes Internet radio, connected navigation, finding and paying for parking, discovering new restaurants at the destination, seamless streaming of favourite music and much more.
“The XC90 will not only tell you when it’s time to visit the garage but also suggest an appointment for you at your Volvo dealership. The Connected Service Booking application is the first step in making the dealer workshop fully integrated into the connected eco-system,” said Dr Müller.
Seamless smartphone integration
The XC90 also becomes the first Volvo car to offer Apple CarPlay, which brings selected features and services familiar to iPad, iPhone and iPod users directly into the car via the large centre console touch screen display. Users will immediately recognise the well-known icons for their basic Apple applications, such as phone, messages, music and navigation.
“Apple’s clean and intuitive user interface is a perfect match with Volvo’s Scandinavian Design approach and our focus on fluid functionality,” added Mr Ingenlath.