General Motors

Contextual Research Drives Innovative Tech Design

Press Release  •  Jan 09, 2012 07:34 EST

LAS VEGAS – Cadillac CUE, the new design and technical system for connectivity and control debuting in the Cadillac XTS, aims to solve the biggest frustration for drivers – creating an intuitive user interface.

Breaking new ground required learning how people interact with mobile devices inside their cars, even if that meant the tough assignment of going on vacation with consumers.

Cadillac is sharing what it learned and more on the creation of CUE – Cadillac User Experience – at the 2012 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Among the many innovations to come from the research was proximity sensing, natural voice recognition, haptic feedback and our unique capacitive touch screen with the concealed storage compartment behind the user interface.

 “Cadillac CUE enables drivers to put the smartphone or tablet away, while channeling the capability and media from those devices through the car, via an elegant and intuitive user experience,” says Jim Vurpillat, Cadillac global marketing director.

Using a clean sheet approach, Cadillac revisited not just the hardware, but the entire interaction between driver and car. Topping the list was the user interface, which in the automotive industry has been an Achilles’ heel for users and critics alike.

The CUE team, made up of designers, engineers and software developers, used a consumer-focused methodology called Contextual Design. It’s a process in which interviewers immerse themselves into the lives of users to understand the most subtle aspects of how they use products, how they work around shortcomings, and how they’d wish for improvements.

So team members rode along with luxury car owners on daily commutes, tagged along on vacations and sometimes squeezed in the back seats with families and groceries. The team constantly sketched their observations, no matter how mundane. Sometimes the observations were troubling, such as cell phones stuffed into cup holders or door pockets for constant reference while driving.

When the team members returned, they categorized thousands of observations, affixing them to a long wall at the General Motors Design Center in Warren, Mich. The CUE team would “walk the wall” to analyze driver frustrations, identify possible new capabilities, and look for common threads of where existing systems were failing or frustrating users. From there, they began to devise solutions.

“Navigation systems, for example, often ask users to input destination information in reverse. They’d have to first input the state, then the city, then the address,” said CUE Interaction Designer Cody Hansen. “That’s unnatural, and we also knew the system could be smart enough to let them enter a destination the way they would typically write it or say it, and even auto-fill the complete address the next time they begin to enter it.”

Eventually, common threads emerged. The team created eight distinct personas or driver archetypes that represented driver personalities, each with priorities for how to optimally use technology inside the car.

“’Spencer’ needed to respond to text messages immediately. ‘‘Emily’ wanted to listen to music from her phone, her iPod and her flash drive,” Hansen said. “We began to model what would represent system designs for all eight driver personas – from both a physical and a software perspective.”

The CUE team began building what would become an extensive design and engineering specification manual that included more than 1,500 pages of storyboards, functions and program wireframes. HMI (Human-machine Interface) state charts were another design artifact the team created that described the detailed interactive behavior of the system to be programmed.

Among the breakthroughs the CUE team developed: proximity sensing that minimizes the display when not in use; capacitive touch screen with haptic feedback; natural voice recognition; icon-based menu functions with home screen and customizable shortcut menu bars, and a concealed storage compartment behind the user interface. The haptic feedback gives users a pulsing sensation when the select menu items while capacitive touch screen allows for swipe and pinching gestures to move and resize items on the main screen.

The team also learned it needed to design for the future. The answer: Opening up the Linux-based CUE platform to developers. That will help ensure that CUE can stay ahead of changes in technology and remain relevant and useful throughout the automotive lifecycle, which is many months longer than the consumer electronic devices that connect to CUE.

“It was great to see the process work through a very complex set of functions and design parameters, and to bring structure to the design and innovation process,” said Larry Marturano, director and business manager at InContext Design, which helped facilitate the contextual research.

Cadillac will offer CUE starting with the new XTS luxury sedan in spring of 2012 and in the ATS compact luxury sedan, followed by the SRX luxury crossover.

Among CUE’s features are a vibrant 8-inch LCD capacitive touch main screen with icon-based menu functions, audio functions which include AM/FM/HD Radio and Sirius XM capability, along with fully integrated iPod/MP3 player connectivity and music library indexing across multiple devices. It also includes built-in 3D navigation with turn-by-turn, natural speech recognition and auto-fill location input.

Additional features include LCD instrument panel cluster displays with a fully configurable 12.2-inch screen optional on certain models, multi-function steering wheel controls which control phones, navigation, audio systems; optional heads-up display, and a standard driver information center in the main instrument panel.

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