September 17, 2001

IAA 2001: The Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI)
Text and pictures courtesy of Audi AG

Audi will be demonstrating its ideas on the future shape of interaction between man, machine and information technology, in the form of a pioneering working exhibit at the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show. In doing this, it is anticipating the prospects for the customised networking of cars with the Internet.

Infotainment is an artificial word used to denote forms of electronic information and entertainment. These include radio and CD, navigation systems, telephones and telematics. The general trend towards even greater mobility and communication means that the range of such functions is likewise continuing to expand. Digital radio, MP3 and DVD video are just three of many new options.

However, operating the current range of functions has already reached a level of complexity that many users find off-putting. One of the main reasons is that the individual devices each have specific, distinctive display and operating concepts. The user is thus confronted with a confusing mass of interfaces.

Whenever the driver wants to use a desired function - the reason for its very presence in the car - he has to go through a substantial learning process, which has to be repeated for every single device. The integration of yet more functions would result in overburdening him, thus potentially undermining road safety.

This necessitates an entirely new form of operating concept, which will integrate ideally all the electronic systems in the vehicle, and thus significantly reduce the driver's workload.

The progress that has been made in the field of network technology through the use of CAN-bus systems, MOST technology (media oriented systems transport) - an optical high-speed databus system with optical fibres - and the use of a high-performance computer unit for menu guidance constitute the technical boundary conditions. These permit the essential combining of the user interfaces for all components at one central point.

The Audi Multi-Media-Interface (MMI), which will be on display at the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show, is based on these requirements. There was close coordination between ergonomics, technology and design throughout the development process. The outcome is a universal, customer-friendly interface design that uses a consistent operating logic. It uses touch, sight and sound, e.g. in the form of voice control, to allow the driver to handle information as efficiently as possible.

The controls and displays

An immediately apparent characteristic feature is the remote control concept where the displays and controls are not positioned together. This affords the advantage that the monitor screens are positioned within the primary field of view, and that the control panel is located ergonomically within immediate reach.

The entire MMI operating unit is located between the gear lever and the centre armrest; thanks to the driver's armrest position, he is always able to operate the controls reliably from a comfortable seated position. The driver has direct access to all main functions via eight permanently assigned hardkeys, to assure rapid, accurate access.

The main functions of the hardkeys are divided thematically into pairs representing four groups: Entertainment covers all audio-visual sources, such as radio, CD, TV, DVD and digital radio. Communication groups together all Internet and telephone functions. A further pair of keys combines the navigation and telematics menus in the Information group. The fourth pair constitutes the Control sub-group, with the car and setup keys.

Within each individual main function, the four most important subsidiary functions can be called up via four softkeys, depending on the context, which are grouped around the central pushbutton/rotary control. The latter serves as the principal element for selecting and activating all functions. The four corners of the screen in the main display indicate the current function of the softkeys.

However, the total number of keys is kept to a minimum, as the keys concentrate on the essential functions: MMI keeps the driving area neat, heralding an end to the situation where there are different elements scattered all around the car.

This economical approach to operating elements is mirrored by a flat menu structure. The structure of the menu corresponds to what the user expects, and information can be found rapidly. Frequently used menus can either be accessed directly via the eight hardkeys or via a straightforward procedure via the menu levels, using the softkeys. The more frequently a function is required, the more direct access to it is. Functions that are rarely needed are deeper down in the menu structure.

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