As digital disruption continues to push all industries in new directions, the automobile industry must also evolve and adapt. This has spurred the need for smart design that embraces technological advancements but also enhances driver experience and most importantly, safety. The interior designs of our cars have become very important to drivers and any piece of equipment – down to a controller has – to deliver both utility and satisfy our desire for sleek design.

With the Shape Shifting Controller, our Future Experience team has brought design and function to the driver’s fingertips.

HARMAN has created three categories of shape-shifting controllers featuring industry-first designs: shape shifting controllers, surface changing controllers and stiffness changing controllers. With today’s infotainment systems evolving into powerful in-car computers capable of recognizing voice, delivering vast forms of entertainment, and even helping you find the best pizza in town – it raises the problem of less-safe driving habits with the driver often having to briefly divert their eyes from the road.

The Shape Shifting Controller radically re-imagines how you interact with your car, as well as how the car interacts with you. Known as a human-machine interface or HMI, the intuitive design enables your car to provide feedback through your fingertips which does not impact hearing or sight. Since the human senses can work in parallel, the Shape Shifting Controller reduces cognitive load and decreases driver distractions. In addition, it’s elegantly designed to maximize a driver’s focus on the road and look and feel very cool while doing so! 

There are various kinds of Shape Shifting Controllers. One sits within the center console of the vehicle.  Various haptic sensations can be felt forming beneath the driver’s fingertips. The different textures on the console communicated through touch to help the driver determine in which mode they’re interacting without taking their eyes off the road. These modes could be music selection, navigation, air temperature and so on. Once in a selected mode, the pad located on the console offers escalating degrees of interaction. For example, the Shape Shifting Controller will quickly adjust into several different shapes and widths providing feedback to the driver as to which screen menu they’re in.  Take it a step further and the controller will tell you how deep into each menu you’re delving via a scroll of your fingertips.

When applied to navigation applications, a Shape Shifting Steering Wheel (which works in tandem with the Shape Shifting Controller on the center console) can communicate directions to the driver through touch. As a turn approaches, the wheel will swell on the corresponding side of your hand, with its thickness indicating how steep the upcoming turn will be.  When it’s time to make the turn – the wheel will pulse.

The goal of the design is to re-imagine a better driver experience where the focus is on the road with a dynamic controller that operates in perfect harmony with the driver. 

Superior design and performance is within fingertips’ reach – literally!