The new E-Class: user interaction, operating logic and display concept.

  • 21. December 2015
  • Innovation
  • Photos: Daimler
  • Text: Ernesto Singer

From touch control buttons and the COMAND controller to direct buttons and voice control – Mercedes-Benz is following the principle of functional redundancy with its range of input methods.

In the interior of the new E-Class, which will be unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show on 11 January 2016, beauty and intelligence go hand in hand. Or, to put it another way: the latest generation of this vehicle takes the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy of sensual purity to a whole new level. Set among the car’s curved lines, large widescreens shout high tech. Two adjacent 12.3-inch displays appear to form one unit due to their single glass cover. The clear design of the display ensures intuitive operation that enables the driver to concentrate on the road ahead.

Multiple input methods for achieving the same thing.

The main element of the new interior is the widescreen cockpit. It incorporates both a virtual instrument cluster in the driver’s direct field of vision and a central display above the centre console. “We designed the large widescreens as one unit with the control panel on the centre console. This puts the emphasis on the driver,” says Hartmut Sinkwitz, Head of Interior Design, Mercedes-Benz Cars. “However, we kept the outline of the instrument panel symmetrical, thereby making the front passenger feel valued, too – as is typical for Mercedes-Benz.”

Easy operation is key to success

User interaction, man and motor car working in tandem. Mercedes-Benz wanted to take a big step forward in this area with the new E-Class. In the era of the smartphone, every child knows that it is not just aesthetic appeal but also a logical control and display concept that helps to ensure market success. Intuitive operation is appreciated and expected in equal measure by today’s customers. This also holds true for the automotive world.

“A horizontal control bar containing the main functions and the decision not to have an extensive submenu makes the system much easier to use,” says Koray Sever, a telematics expert at Mercedes-Benz. “Important information for the driver is grouped on the left, directly in front of him or her. The right-hand display is reserved for comfort and infotainment features.”

Digital Graphic & Corporate Design and Digital Vehicle & Mobility

Developing brand-new control and display concepts is the domain of two new centres of excellence at Mercedes-Benz: ‘Digital Graphic & Corporate Design’ and ‘Digital Vehicle & Mobility’. One of their visions for the future has already become reality in the new E-Class. In an increasingly complex age, the interface between driver and car has reached new heights of simplicity – and offers an unprecedented range of control options.

Functional redundancy: getting there in more ways than one

Mercedes-Benz is following the principle of functional redundancy here. Multiple input methods are available – and all ultimately achieve the same thing. Instead of being forced to use one particular command, the driver is free to choose whichever method he or she finds the most convenient.

The right-hand display can be operated by the LINGUATRONIC voice control, by the direct buttons for the navigation system, radio, media and telephone – which are just as easy to reach for the front passenger – and by the COMAND controller. The touchpad on the centre console recognises one-finger and multiple-finger gestures and is ideal for entering all kinds of text characters. But the driver can also interact with the new E-Class without taking his or her hands off the steering wheel. Touch control buttons have been integrated into the spokes of the multifunction steering wheel – the first time that they have been used in a passenger car. The buttons are touch-sensitive and respond precisely to horizontal and vertical swipes of the finger.

Index finger 2.0: the thumb

A few years ago, it was the index finger that had all the work to do. But when tapping out text messages (SMSs) became a global mass phenomenon, superseded shortly afterwards by messaging services such as WhatsApp, the thumb rose to the top of the human finger hierarchy. You could even say that now that the mobile phone is no longer primarily used for making calls, the thumb has evolved into a kind of index finger 2.0. With the boom of text messaging at the start of the 21st century, SMS-savvy youngsters in Japan were dubbed oya yubi sedai – which loosely translates as ‘generation thumb’.

Similar technology to that found in a computer mouse.

Touch control buttons: both hands on the steering wheel

It is with their thumbs that drivers of the new E-Class navigate through the logically structured menu. After swiping to select a function, they press the touch control button to activate it. Here, Mercedes-Benz is using the same sort of technology as can be found in a computer mouse, for example. A laser sensor scans the smooth surface, registers the tiniest of finger movements and translates them into commands that are then shown on the display.

E-Class drivers are spared the inconvenience that irritates many a smartphone user in winter: it is perfectly possible to use the new touch control buttons on the steering wheel while wearing gloves – whether they are made of quality fabric or luxurious leather. “The touch controls allow drivers to precisely adjust all menu-assisted settings from the steering wheel,” explains Hartmut Sinkwitz, Head of Interior Design, Mercedes-Benz Cars. “In combination with the central operating unit on the centre console, this creates a synthesis of new and familiar controls.”

From touch control buttons and the COMAND controller to direct buttons and voice control: however drivers of the new E-Class choose to enter ‘Spanish Steps’ as their destination, all four methods will lead to Rome. By deliberately incorporating functional redundancy, Mercedes-Benz has made the controls as intuitive as possible. Allowing a free choice of input methods provides greater comfort for both driver and passengers, thereby increasing safety on board.

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