Meanwhile, the haptics experts at Audi have established specifications that internal developers and suppliers have to comply with. Audi control elements are evaluated according to the following criteria: light action, moderate control movement distances, defined stops, exact guidance, low noise emissions and a definite tactile and acoustic response at the switching point. "Customers want to receive a clear response when activating a function. If they press a button, for instance, how the effort that's needed actually builds up is important. Haptic response also includes acoustic feedback such as an audible click. The right combination of those two gives customers the certainty that the function has indeed been activated," says team member Torsten Kolkhorst, who works in the steering wheel design area.

Klaus Nonnenbroich, a developer in the cockpit, structure and surfaces area, adds: "A tiny plastic switch located behind a large, rigid surface is a disappointment. It operates under false pretences. The same is true for surfaces - if a surface looks like aluminium, it ought to be aluminium."

If a team member tests a component, he or she has to complete a questionnaire with which its material, shape, location and operating feel are evaluated. Some of the questions asked, for instance, are: What do you think about the material, the manufacturing quality or the shape? How do you assess the position and ease of access?

The main factors are actuating force and sequence, movement, direction and sound. Another important question is whether the shape of the control element communicates how it is to be operated. Gerhard Mauter describes this as "operating logic" or "blind control".

"We want to make life easier for drivers. The less they are distracted while operating the controls, the better," says Mauter. Customers' expectations also have to be taken account of when designing new control concepts. These are the result of acquired processes and therefore memorised action models. This is why psychological support is required for haptic evaluation. A control process is a complex matter and has to be analysed in detail.

The head of the team explains, "Operating haptics are only perceived unconsciously (with certain restrictions). One could put it this way: if the customer doesn't notice anything particular and feels comfortable in the car, we have done our job well." Team member Frank Knauber, who is in charge of door and side panels in the controlling area, adds, "When the customer notices that every switch and lever in an Audi is in the right spot and the switches respond the way the customers expect intuitively, then we were successful!"

On the basis of existing analyses it is not yet possible to decide whether there are different preferences among individual groups of customers. The head of the haptics team, however, is convinced that "women make more marked haptic distinctions than men", for example. There are also cultural differences. "In some markets, customers are certainly more tolerant towards faults than here in Germany, for instance, says Gerhard Mauter.

Mauter and his colleagues are working toward homogenous haptics for all control elements of an Audi model and a comprehensive general concept - an "Audi feeling" that communicates convenience and comfort to the driver. In view of the high quality claimed for Audi models, everything has to match: the shape of the door handles, the sound of the doors closing, the handwheel for adjusting the back restraints, the indicator lever or the surface quality of the gear lever knob.

At the same time, the Audi feeling cannot be specified so easily, because careful differentiation is necessary when considering all the control elements. You cannot compare the action of a door handle and an indicator lever. "This is due to the technology, the physical facts and the customers' different expectations regarding the control element in question," says haptic team member Ulrich Weiss, an interior designer at Audi.

Haptic differentiation of the individual Audi model lines is even more difficult. Says Gerhard Mauter: "Of course an Audi TT's haptics are slightly firmer, to underline its sports character. The haptic characteristics of our sedans also differ, though this doesn't mean that the haptic quality of an Audi A3 is necessarily worse than that of an Audi A8." Differences occur almost automatically due to the discrepancy in component and development costs. More investment may be made in haptics for a D-segment car such as the A8, for instance. These cars also have more electrical standard features or optional extras, which naturally results in more exclusive haptic characteristics.

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