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The ultimate driver-touchscreen: NZ researchers develop new smart-car technology

Touch screens are a standard part of most modern cars, yet the lack of sensation can lead to mistakes these drawing a lot of attention away from the road. 

A University of Canterbury academic team has been given the green light to research better in-vehicle touchscreens, with the aim of improving user performance and reducing attentional demands.

The research, led by professor Andrew Cockburn has received $200,000 in this year’s  Science for Technological Innovation (SFTI) seed fund.

Human-computer interaction is increasingly supported through touchscreen displays, touchscreens are incorporated into control panels for vehicles including aircraft, sea-vessels, cars, motorcycles, and farm machinery.

Cockburn says, “Touchscreen interaction lacks the tangible ‘haptic’ sensations afforded by mechanical controls such as physical buttons, dials, and sliders, consequently, controlling touchscreen interaction can be slow, error-prone and cumbersome.

“It can also be visually demanding because unlike mechanical switches, controls cannot be located by feel.”

“These problems are exacerbated when the interaction environment is subject to vibration, turbulence or acceleration, as is often the case when operating a vehicle.” 

This project aims to develop a new fundamental understanding of touchscreen interaction during vibration, and it will develop methods that improve interaction with touchscreens in vibrating environments.

Two methods for achieving these improvements will be investigated:

  • Use of finger-force-sensing capabilities that have recently become available on touchscreens.
  • Use of transparent overlays, including 3D printed physical elements such as buttons and sliders, that rest on top of the touchscreen.

Cockburn continues, “These physical artifacts will assist the user in controlling the underlying touchscreen by feel, and they will assist mechanical limb stabilisation.” 

He believes there is great potential for dissemination of the science, for IP development, and for products that are derived from the research.

One of New Zealand's 11 national science challenges, the SFTI Challenge was launched in 2015. 

Being a 10-year, multi-million-dollar investment, the challenge aims to grow New Zealand’s future high-tech economy.

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