What would it be like if in the future we could hold an online conference, attend an online training seminar or practice meditation during a car journey? Autonomous or automated vehicles offer completely new ways of using travel time while the vehicle itself takes care of the driving. However, this places new requirements on the vehicle interior in terms of its equipment and design, necessitating a shift toward a functional, interactive environment. As part of the »Mobile hybrid working in automated vehicles« (MoHAFe for short) project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO is working with the technology company TWT GmbH to research and demonstrate hybrid working in passenger cars with automation levels 3–4. Such mobile working is set to become much more attractive and practicable as a result of the planned EU Regulation permitting automated driving at speeds of up to 130 km/h. The aim is to create a positive communication and interaction experience for the driver that goes beyond current networking and entertainment formats in vehicles so that passenger cars can be used as a workspace, making car journeys more efficient. The project team is focusing on developing entirely new concepts for working in automated or autonomous vehicles with a view to implementing and evaluating prototypes of these.
Transforming results into a hands-on experience: demonstrators to showcase working in a (sharing) vehicle
The aim is to provide passengers with an interactive communication channel that primarily takes into account emotions and interoperability. This includes public transport, which is considered a passive mode of transport. Fraunhofer IAO is collaborating with TWT to develop the requirements specification, which will form the basis of the technical architecture for the solution being developed. This architecture consists of hardware and software components and also includes interior design aspects. Based on this preliminary work, the IAO research team will produce and validate a physical prototype of the interactive interior, which should potentially also be useable in public transport. TWT will also implement the concepts in the form of a virtual prototype so that it is possible to run simulations of hybrid work in the vehicle for a wide range of traffic situations, which can then be tried and tested firsthand via VR. In addition, AI solutions are expected to support users in making the most of the interior for their various working situations. Concept and model development will use modern systems engineering methods, including the use of modeling languages similar to the SysML, and will be based on the latest findings from ergonomics as well as interface and mobility research. To that end, the project will address use cases for one or more people in the vehicle, each involved in one or more tasks, including training and education tasks as well as collaboration with people who are not in the vehicle. VR and AR technologies will be used as needed, focusing in particular on responding to user needs in order to achieve a positive overall experience.
The research team will also investigate the minimum level of automation required for an interactive interior for mobile working to be practical. Dr. Matthias Bues, head of the Visual Interactive Technologies team at Fraunhofer IAO, explains: »In this project, we are not just focusing on autonomous driving but also on semi-autonomous vehicles where the driver needs to take control if necessary.« MoHAFe aims to create a technology base that enables mobile working in a completely new, interactive and empathetic way. This base also provides the basis for a meta level, facilitating the creation of a variety of mobile services related to it. Dr. Martin Obstbaum, head of Systems Engineering at TWT, adds: »As a technology company, TWT is focusing on the immersive virtual representation of the vehicle interior and its passengers as well as on the simulation of potential communication and interaction processes. This is essential for developing mobile hybrid working in semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles.« The aim is to leverage the latest methods and tools as well as artificial intelligence to make the future office environment and ergonomic workplace accessible to drivers and other passengers.