Interview with Jörn Petersen

Jörn Petersen, Head of the Human Factors unit at Daimler

Mr. Petersen, electronic components like touchscreens are becoming more and more prevalent as human-machine interfaces. Does that mean traditional control elements like steering wheels will soon disappear?
I don’t think so – at least not as long as people still actually operate their vehicles. Mechanical interfaces like the steering wheel have a long history; drivers are very familiar with them and trust them. In addition, turning a steering wheel or applying the brakes are intuitive movements that make it possible to react rapidly and properly to various situations. We can, however, continually optimize the technology for these interfaces by adding corrective mechanisms, for example.

Do you believe there’s a danger that the tremendous amount of information drivers are exposed to might one day prove to be too much for them to handle?
There’s definitely a danger of that. But that’s exactly what we’re working to prevent by developing systems that sort and prioritize information and present it in a way that allows drivers to register it without distracting their attention from the road. It’s always a question of ensuring the highest degree of safety.

What are the biggest challenges you face when trying to come up with ideas for new HMI systems?
The main challenge is the human factors, which means we have to design everything in a way that makes it easily understood by people with no technical background or specialized knowledge. Here, we also must remember that people in our various markets around the world think and act very differently in some cases.

In which direction are vehicle HMI systems moving in terms of their development?
We’re clearly moving toward a type of communication that corresponds to human nature. Our telematics experts have made our voice input and output functions so reliable that they have eliminated any possible distractions during use of the navigation system or phone, for example. We believe such completely safe operation will also be possible with other features in the future, especially after automated systems begin enabling new utilization applications. So we’ll see drivers entering destinations by voice control into a vehicle that takes over driving operations, and passengers using many additional voice-command functions and Internet services.

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