Usability of a Glass Dashboard?


I had heard that the Tesla Model S (the luxury electric car) had a giant touch screen as one of the main interfaces for secondary car functions and always wondered what that might be like from a human factors/usability perspective. Physical knobs and switches, unlike interface widgets, give a tactile sensation and do not change location on the dashboard.

This post is an interesting examination of the unique dashboard:

Think about a car’s dashboard for a second. It’s populated with analog controls: dials, knobs, and levers, all of which control some car subsystem such as temperature, audio, or navigation. These analog dials, while old, have two features: tactility and physical analogy. Respectively, this means you can feel for a control, and you have an intuition for how the control’s mechanical action affects your car (eg: counterclockwise on AC increases temperature). These small functions provide a very, very important feature: they allow the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road.

Except for a the privileged few that have extraordinary kinesthetic sense of where our hands are, the Model S’s control scheme is an accident waiting to happen. Hell, most of us can barely type with two hands on an iPhone. Now a Model S driver has to manage all car subsystems on a touchscreen with one hand while driving.

The solution, however, is may not be heads-up displays or augmented reality, as the author suggests (citing the HUD in the BMW).


While those displays allow the eye to remain on the road it’s always in the way–a persistent distraction. Also, paying attention to the HUD means your attention will not be on the road–and what doesn’t get paid attention to doesn’t exist:

2 thoughts on “Usability of a Glass Dashboard?”

  1. Dr. Pak,

    Hello, Alex Trowbridge here, one of the graduate students in Dr. McLaughlin’s LACElab at NCSU. While I agree that it is important to proceed with caution when it comes to HUD’s in automobiles, I can’t help but feel that the benefits may outweigh the risks of using such an interface for certain functions. For example, most drivers (especially younger drivers) are already using a GPS on their phone, with or without voice directions, to guide them to their destinations. The same principle of variable mapping that makes the touch screen interface in the console more dangerous also indicates that a fixed location GPS navigation interface on the windshield is possibly less risky than one on a phone screen, that moves around and is almost certainly not located so near the area that most needs attended (i.e. the road). There are important design considerations for using this type of navigation interface (imagine an SUV following a slightly-opaque green arrow through a curve and plowing through the slightly-obscured obstacle), but I think with careful design this sort of display could be more safe than the interface currently used, a smart phone that keeps falling off my lap down by the pedals.

    Interesting Post,

    Alex Trowbridge

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