This is the transcript from The Dirt episode: Automotive Experience Design with Neal Corbett.
Tim: You’re just making such a specific statement about who you are in a cashmere hoodie.
Steve: I know.
Neal: Pretty sad though. That’s a pretty good price for cashmere, though.
Tim: Hello and welcome to the dirt. I’m your host, Tim Wright, and today
I’m here with Steve Hickey. Good morning. And sitting in for Mark, our art
director Neil Corbett.
Tim: Hello, Neil.
Neal: Hello, Tim.
Tim: Welcome to the show.
Neal: Thank you.
Tim: How are you doing this morning?
Neal: I’m doing pretty well.
Tim: I’m trying to talk to Neil.
Steve: I see how it is.
Tim: We have a you expert program here at fresh tilled soil and it’s
basically–now step in here when I get it wrong–it’s a deep research
project into a specific category. I think it lasts multiple months or I
actually heard it lasts up to a year yesterday.
Steve: It’s like doing a new thesis every year, but the only recognition is
from people who can see you every day.
Tim: Sure. So we have this program and the thing that Neil is doing is
automotive experience design. And we came up with this video, or we saw
this video, last week or the week before of this touch screen interface for
a car that somebody came out with. Which was neat. I thought it was cool.
Tim: But then we started talking about it and we decided it wasn’t neat so
we wanted to have Neil come on and talk about it because it’s his area of
expertise. So walk us through the video. We’ll link up to it in the show
Neal: Yeah. So the video is of a live demo that this guy created using an
It shows a new way of interacting with a touch screen using gestures. So
multiple fingers in different places do different things.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. We’re going to isolate that clip.
Neal: That is what she said. So anyway, for example if you touch the screen
with three fingers and have them close together it might do the volume. If
you have your fingers more spread out it might do changing the channel,
changing the temperature in the car, all that. So it’s just a different way
to think about interacting with the screen and enabling someone to use it
without having to look at it.
Tim: I thought that was cool. I guess the certain things that you could do.
The volume I thought was cool, something you don’t have to look at the
screen obviously. But there were a couple of them that had actual check
point settings. Like you had to slide up.
Steve: Radio stations.
Tim: Yeah where you actually did kind of have to look. Looking for a radio
station you kind of do have to pay attention.
Steve: I think in theory it’s really cool. It’s certainly better than a lot
of the touch screens that we see in cars, but it still has a lot of the
same problems that most touch screens have–you can’t see shit. Well rather
you can see it, but if you’re seeing it, you’re not looking at the road.
Tim: And really what’s the difference between touching a screen and
touching a knob.
Neal: That was my biggest problem with it. I think the idea was totally
awesome. That he took that approach to saying hey I can control these
things with different finger combinations, but what he ended up doing was
just replacing functions that are better served by a knob. Is it really
that hard to turn a knob to turn the volume up?
Neal: So sometimes these new technologies are cool, but they’re not
actually better experiences.
Steve: I love that he took a different approach to it. It was really
thought out and really creative. It’s just that touch screens really don’t
belong in cars. It’s much better to have a tactile interface for that sort
Tim: Well for parts of it. Like the nav systems that are in cars now are
touch screen, which I think is fine.
Steve: Yeah I guess you could do a nav system.
Tim: For obvious software installations.
Steve: But have you seen touch screen technology in Tesla? Not only does it
do everything; it’s mounted really low. You have to look very far down to
do anything in that car. It’s the one piece of shit part of that car that
I’ve seen possibly.
Tim: The Tesla is perfect, Steve.
Steve: Is it? Right until you crash it because you’re fiddling with the
radio knobs on your touch screen.
Tim: They have an API. The car has an API, Steve.
Steve: It’s totally hackable.
Neal: Believe it or not, the APIs, more of them are going to be coming out.
Ford and Cadillac and those kind of brands are coming out with API. They
currently have them; they’re just not public.
Tim: Have they spec-ed them out at all? Do you know what you can get? I
know the Tesla one you can do things like honk the horn, put the windows
down, start the car.
Neal: Yeah, I don’t think they’re fully documented at this point as to what
they can do with them. But there is this sort of shift with auto makers
that they’re slowly realizing that they can’t do it in house. Their design
teams, their core teams can’t do this kind of stuff that is better served
by third-party start-ups.
Steve: So is there a theoretical future where I could write my own remote
Tim: Yeah you can do it now.
Neal: You can do it now with the Tesla. It’s an open API.
Steve: Yeah that’s definitely something I can afford today.
Neal: Well the Tesla API is available. You just not a reauth. So you need
to buy a Tesla or have access to a Tesla’s. I don’t know how their
authentication system works.
Steve: I’m going to go home today and tell Rashel [sp] that I blew our
savings on a Tesla down payment.
Neal: Just the down payment.
Tim: Just drain all of your savings into the down payment.
Steve: But look, I can open the door with my phone. Check it out. Oh God I
can see the look on her face. It’s so judgmental and disapproving.
Neal: I think that API, or API in cars, could lend better experiences in
driving because they’re opening up to the community.
Steve: It’s a really nice idea. Especially if you have any idea of the kind
of software that goes into running these cars. Somebody published a horror
story a couple of years ago about the software that runs Toyotas
underneath. They were a former software engineer at Toyota. Just paragraph
after paragraph of the most horrifying bugs that would never survive QA at
a lot of companies. Like the braking system is beyond fragile and things
Tim: That explains a lot with my Corolla.
Neal: Well I think your Corolla’s too old to have those problems. One thing
that was shocking, well not shocking, but it was interesting to hear and
see through my research is that cars probably five or six years ago had
maybe two computer chips in them. It’s estimated now that cars being
launched now and in the future will have upwards of 200-250 computer chips.
Tim: That’s strange that they can’t boil it down to one.
Neal: They isolate the processing power for separate things so that they’re
Steve: Yeah you would want it to be modular. If the braking system goes, I
don’t want to have to replace the entire chip for the car.
Tim: Well it just depends on what, that makes sense in those cases I guess.
Steve: My dad’s a mechanic and he said the things just get relentlessly
more complicated every year. You practically need a degree in software
engineering at this point to do anything really in depth.
Tim: You never think about the software. At least I don’t think about the
software part of building a car.
Steve: Until it breaks.
Tim: Like I know it’s there. I know there are computers in the car. But you
don’t think of somebody sitting down and coding out your braking system.
Neal: Well as the car nerd that I am, and I’m sure you guys have seen it
too, but there’s all these plug and play power increase modules. So you
could plug something into the onboard computer and it will just remap the
throttle input of your car so that your engine could have say 200
horsepower. But with the software that the car company puts over it,
they’ll limit the whole amount of gas or emission, the whole timing and
everything. But for two or three hundred bucks, you can buy something that
plugs into the port under your steering wheel and all of a sudden your car
feels like it has 300 horsepower.
Steve: That’s crazy.
Tim: Totally awesome.
Neal: Totally voids your warranty more than not. It really doesn’t help the
life span of your car.
Steve: But it makes you feel like a baller?
Neal: It’s fun. Yeah. So like a big car for people who love to do that
stuff are Volkswagons usually because of the turbo chargers in them. So you
can just plug it in and your Jetta, like Mark’s little GTI thing, could
turn into a rocket ship.
Steve: So what can I plug into my Honda Fit to make it a good car.
Neal: Ooh, I’d have to think about that.
Steve: Is that your polite way of saying nothing?
Neal: No, no, there’s stuff for every car.
Tim: Have you guys seen that thing called automatic that came out? They
announced it awhile ago.
Steve: It’s been released.
Tim: I went to Best Buy to get one but they don’t have them. I don’t know.
So to [??] this thing I have a pile of Best Buy gift cards from Christmas.
Steve: Oh yeah. You’re never going to use them.
Tim: I’m trying to get rid of them. I bought a pair of guitar strings.
Steve: There’s a website where you can sell your gift cards for actual
cash. There’s a website specifically for that.
Neal: You should just buy a stack of rewriteable CDs. Just like thousands
Steve: Gold plated HDMI cables.
Neal: And then sell them to old people for like 60% mark-up.
Tim: So I was looking at automatic and for those that haven’t seen it, it’s
just something that plugs into the data port in your car and will report
your driving performance to you through your phone. I don’t know if it’s on
Android but I know it through iOS. But it tells you where you can do
better. And if you’re actually doing something that’s bad for your gas
mileage, it starts to beep. So it’s pretty neat. I don’t know. What do you
guys think of that for bettering the experience behind the wheel? Maybe
it’s not while your driving sort of an experience, but it certainly is
trying to save you money in some ways.
Neal: Yeah I think it’s part of what’s happening now which is these
companies. There’s two ways to do it. You can try to work the car companies
directly, the OEMs. There’s a lot of problems with that. The car companies
move so slowly and it takes nine months to get a meeting, blah, blah, blah.
So all these start-ups like automatic are just going out and figuring out
what else they can do without the OEM’s blessing, basically. So something
like that is cool. I don’t know if it’s really a play to improve the
driving experience more so than it is to–it’s sort of like the fitness and
fitbit things, right? It’s like who knew they wanted a fitbit before the
fitbit came out. Who cares how many steps I take?
Tim: I care. I did 7,000 yesterday.
Steve: You’re bragging.
Neal: I feel depressed when I get 4,000. It sucks.
Tim: It’s the worst. I’m like a terrible human being.
Steve: I ran the Nike Move app on my new phone when I got it awhile ago.
After three weeks I just deleted it because it was depressing logging into
it and being like well I did really well for six days this week and I did
nothing on Sunday.
Tim: How did I do five steps? Five? How is that possible?
Steve: I had sixty. I had a day with sixty. I sat on the couch and I
powered through some series on Netflix. I don’t remember what it was.
Tim: That was like two trips to the fridge.
Neal: So yeah, I think that stuff is cool and I think people will get into
it. It will definitely open your eyes to see what your driving habits
actually do. What actually changes between driving to work or driving to
Connecticut using the highways.
Steve: Doesn’t the Nissan Leaf have something like that built into it?
Neal: Yeah so the Nissan Leaf has some stuff like that. There’s also Honda,
a couple of years ago actually when they first started doing hybrids, had
something like that where they showed a little graphic of a tree or a
plant. The more eco you drove the bigger the plant got.
Steve: And the plant starts to die if you drive bad. It’s like a shitty
Neal: Yeah it starts to lose leaves.
Tim: Picture somebody driving like that just with an aerosol can out the
window. I’ve got to level myself off. The best is when I see Prius drivers
doing 90 down the Mass Pike and smoking cigarettes. That’s my favorite.
Neal: Those people would benefit from automatic cars. Like auto driving
Tim: Yeah, the autonomous.
Neal: Yeah, when I was in college they were working on smart roads nearby.
I think they partnered up with Google. Smart roads with heat and sensors so
you can put these self-driving cars on them. What they discovered was when
people were driving, you need a certain level of distance between you and
the car in front of you. Just to be comfortable and so you can hit your
brakes when something happens. But with these self-driving cars, you could
get like three feet from the car in front of you as long as you have enough
room to get off the highway.
Steve: Provided everyone was using the self-driving cars.
Neal: Yeah there was a project done by I think Volvo maybe three years ago
where they took a fleet of trucks. Like semi-truck cabin cars. And they
made them all semi-autonomous. They still had people driving them, but they
could set them in a mode that was fully automated and the cars would drive
three feet from one another, just giant semi-trucks. But they saw that it
increases fuel efficiency with the drafting. They could do four at a time
and they could just rotate positions like you would in a Nascar race or
Tim: Less traffic too.
Steve: Yeah if you automate that activity, you reduce the human error.
Traffic is completely caused by selfishness.
Tim: Traffic is caused by assholes who don’t adhere to the zipper rule. For
you listeners out there who when you’re merging in with another lane, you
let one person go, then you go, it’s like a zipper. It’s just very simple.
Steve: Just blindly do it. It’s easy to understand and I fucking hate you
if you don’t do it. Turn signals, learn them.
Tim: Steve, language.
Steve: I will say what I please Tim Wright.
Tim: I do what I want.
Neal: Yeah, it’s true. The recent cars have started to get away from the
stupidity that people do. Like there’s the lane assist stuff. There’s the
blind spot assist. So cars are slowly already becoming somewhat autonomous
in terms of giving the driver feedback on stuff that they’re not aware of.
Tim: They have the ones that auto-brake now.
Neal: Yeah a lot of the higher end German cars have auto braking. They do
brake assist. They do assisted cruise control so you can put it in cruise
control and it will brake for you.
Steve: It’s a lot better than this guy I used to work with at the library
in UMass Dartmouth. He’d drive home at 1 a.m. so the highway was pretty
empty at that point and he would use the rumble strip as his assisted
driving. He would actively nap and if he hit the rumble strip it would wake
him up and he would of course correct it and then he would go to sleep
Tim: What if he drifted to the other side of the road?
Steve: Yeah, well he didn’t seem to understand problems inherent to this
idea. It was disturbing.
Tim: So designing for that environment has got to be way different than
designing for the web. It’s high distraction. You almost don’t want people
to focus on your UI.
Neal: Yeah the more I look into it the more it’s less about a UI problem
than it is just a UX problem. It’s more about coming up with things that
are relevant to the driver while they’re driving and behavior based type
stuff. It’s not about whether this button needs to look shiny or not. This
button needs to have a flat UI kind of stuff, position on the screen and
size of fonts and stuff like that. That’s all regulated at the moment.
There’s a guideline that’s 180 pages now for distracted driver guidelines.
Tim: For designing?
Neal: Yeah for the auto industry. There’s a consortium that publishes all
this stuff and it’s a guideline so they’re not laws. There’s no hard fast
regulations. It’s just up to the auto industry right now to use best
Tim: So they will actually say you need to use 16 pt. font on your knobs or
Neal: They don’t get that specific but it’s that idea. It should be legible
from a certain distance, that kind of thing. There’s some guidelines for
tasks. A task should take someone no longer than twelve seconds to do in
Tim: That would be super long.
Steve: Twelve seconds?
Tim: What in my car would take twelve seconds? Finding a radio station?
Steve: Scrubbing through your playlist?
Tim: Like in Scranton, PA, trying to find a radio station?
Steve: Resetting your clock?
Tim: See my car won’t let me do that unless I’m parked and the engine’s
Steve: That’s weird.
Neal: Oh really? That’s interesting.
Steve: I know that when I first tried Waves a couple of years ago, they
wouldn’t let you change anything while you were moving. They had
specifically built in something where like if you tried to change any of
the settings it said sorry you’re driving, we can’t let you do that. But if
you’re the passenger, here’s a little puzzle you can solve to prove that
you’re able to pay enough attention or something like that.
Tim: So you had to be intelligent enough to complete the puzzle.
Steve: I mean it wasn’t like a smart puzzle. It was like a you have to pay
attention long enough to do this and if you can pay attention long enough
to do this you either better be the passenger or you’re an idiot.
Tim: Or you’re a drunk driver who just has to find his way home. Can’t do
this puzzle I’m so hammered.
Steve: Based on a simple profile of my family, I’m going to say the average
habitual drunk driver isn’t aware of Waves.
Neal: Yeah. There’s a lot of that thinking out there too where car
companies are saying hey could we have technology that once someone enters
the car, certain functions of your smartphone get turned off. Whether it’s
your data gets turned off, or certain apps won’t work.
Steve: I imagine a strong selling point for that could be making sure your
teenagers are not doing the wrong things in the car. If you know you’re
going to buy your teenager a brand new $40,000 ride.
Neal: Sprint had something like that for awhile. Where you could say, say I
had a son who was awesome in every way.
Steve: Had or have?
Neal: Not that I know of. But say I had a son. I could say hey Sprint,
while he’s driving or moving at a certain mile per hour don’t let him text.
They used to have it. I don’t know if they still do.
Steve: I think a lot of phones have that sort of parental control you can
get from the carrier, but I wouldn’t be surprised if kids now exactly how
to disable that shit. They’re way better at computers than their parents
Neal: Well I assume you have to log into a parent’s account.
Steve: Yeah I’m going to guess that’s not a serious impediment to some of
these kids. Kids will find a way to do stupid things. It’s inevitable. It’s
like an arms race of preventing their demise.
Neal: Well there’s the UX challenge in preventing people from doing stupid
things, but making the things that they want to do pleasant.
Neal: They need to be able to work the heat and the A/C and the radio and
all this stuff, but you need to make it not more than twelve seconds.
Neal: You’d think with the connectivity of your phone and also cars having
this capability now too, you could have it all be predictive. So if your
weather app knows it’s 18 degrees outside and knows your car is going to
want to be warm, couldn’t you just sit in your car and your heat is already
adjusted for you? And then you could just set the preset. You could say I
like it when it’s 75, my wife likes it when it’s 68.
Tim: Isn’t that sort of the idea with something like iOS in the car?
Neal: It is.
Steve: Or the Nest.
Neal: Or the Nest. iOS in the car is, it got announced . . .
Tim: It was last year.
Neal: Yeah it was about a year ago. They’re just starting to implement some
of the stuff.
Steve: It seems like the car, really, is just a second screen for your
Neal: Yeah. The car at this point, the auto industry and people in the car
biz, are referring to it as the fourth screen know. You have your laptop,
your phone, and all the tablets.
Steve: Fourth screen, Jesus Christ.
Tim: All in your car while you’re driving.
Steve: Of course they want to think of it that way.
Neal: Yeah. And right now they’re struggling with what to include in the
car. You see all of the ads with Facebook and Twitter in the car. That’s
just total . . .
Tim: I’ve seen the Facebook thing. Why in the world?
Neal: It’s just total gimick things.
Steve: There are things you can’t give your users sometimes because it will
allow them to kill themselves.
Neal: I was installing parallels once and at the end of the parallel
install it said hey do you want to share this with your friends on Twitter.
No. Not everyone needs a social strategy.
Steve: Whenever I buy something on Amazon, you get that little pop-up at
the end. It’s like no I don’t want to share with my friends that I just
bought a 55 gallon drum of lube.
Tim: Oh, excuse me.
Neal: I have shared purchases from Amazon.
Neal: I don’t remember the specific instance, but I was buying something
and I was like this is a neat thing.
Tim: Like a fake turd or something?
Steve: So how long until we start seeing ads in the car? Because that’s
what I’m afraid of.
Tim: That’s a good question.
Neal: I wouldn’t imagine they could. I mean the auto industry, they
monetize so much of the car already.
Steve: You don’t think some ad executive or some marketing executive is
just sitting there salivating at the chance to tell you about Doritos every
time you sit down in your Ford Focus Doritos edition?
Tim: Well there are ads on the radio in the car.
Neal: I had a bizarre moment the other day when i was driving to work. I
was leaving my apartment in Charlestown. I was behind you know those Boston
tour buses, like the tourist things. It was plastered in Geico stuff and as
soon as I came up behind it a Geico radio ad came on. I was like wait a
second, are they monitoring how close I am to this bus?
Steve: So you know that feature where newer radios in newer cars can take a
digital underlying stream and display information about the radio station
on your radio? When I first got my current car, I was listening to some
radio station and the radio station inserted a text ad into that stream. I
immediately turned that feature off. It’s just sitting there scrolling
across my radio display.
Neal: That is so strange.
Tim: I hate that. I know that everybody hates ads. For me to say that I
hate ads is obvious, but I really wish there was a different revenue model
for this stuff.
Steve: I wish there were people who felt bad enough about making that their
life’s goal. To sell new ad streams. It would just stop.
Neal: That could be a Uxpert talk on its own. What if you paid ninety-cents
per year to use Facebook. Everybody.
Steve: That wouldn’t be that bad.
Neal: I would pay that.
Tim: That’s what Whatsapp did, right?
Steve: It’s like the first year is free. So after you spend an entire year
ingraining it into your life.
Neal: Once you’re hooked.
Steve: It’s not a bad idea and I like the philosophy behind it. They’re
very open about it. They’re like we don’t want to sell advertising because
this is what’s wrong with it. Here’s what we’re going to do instead.
Neal: I do know that Mark Zuckerberg is a listener, so Mark we would be
willing to pay ninety-nine cents a year if you drop all your ads.
Tim: Sorry for making fun of your jeans Mark.
Steve: I already, well before I quit it, I had already dropped the ads
voluntarily just by using an ad blocker which people hate but they’re the
ones who made ads shitty so I got rid of them.
Neal: Ads of Facebook, not to get on a tangent about ads, but the ads on
Facebook I actually don’t mind them. They’re pretty well targeted.
Steve: On NBC.com they’ll detect that you’re running an ad blocker and
they’ll ask you to turn it off, but they won’t prevent you from watching
anything which I just find really funny because I can just see someone
sitting there in an existential terror that they tell you to stop watching
because they block your ads, you’ll just never come back to NBC. I
Tim: So if you were to look back on all this research you’ve done on car
UX, what’s the take away from that?
Neal: Well initially I was going into the project thinking I could design
some cool navigation system or I could think about some really cool visuals
but after going through it I realized how big of a topic it is and how many
different problems there are with it. So at this point it’s more of a pure
research and information gathering process. There’s articles and videos
that I’ve watched and I have to think at this point. I have to narrow it
down and say what is it that I want to address. Whether it’s distracted
driving, that could be a topic for two years to research that. But it’s
also, I think part of it comes down to understanding the history of
automotive too because at this point cars have been the same for 60 years.
They haven’t changed all that much. They have but steering wheel, drive
train, shifter, whether it’s automatic or manual. Now with the whole
technology in cars, Audi just released a car with 4G connectivity that you
can add to your cellphone for like ten bucks a month. Your car can now have
full connection all the time, it’s amazing. So with that whole layer on top
of it, cars are just going to turn into something other than driving in the
next five to ten years. With the whole automated car idea of the self-
driving cars, if that happens and it gets well adopted, cars won’t even
look like they do now.
Tim: What will they be, circles?
Neal: Yeah you can imagine a world where people don’t own cars right? So
it’s all shared.
Steve: Do you think there’s any movie that accurately depicts the car of
Neal: Fifth Element, maybe?
Steve: I want one of those taxis.
Tim: Back to the Future 2.
Neal: No, I actually think there’s parts from different movies. I recently
watched that bad Tom Cruise movie Oblivion where he has the flying pod. But
one interesting part of that is he has the flying, quote-unquote, car so to
speak. But he has a motorcycle attached to it, right?
Steve: So he can just peel off on the motorcycle?
Neal: So it’s like that multi-modal idea.
Steve: Like the batmobile?
Neal: Yeah. BMW has done some research into this where they’ve looked at
European cities and said OK, not a lot of people have cars and most people
ride trains and blah, blah, blah. So they’ve played with the idea of would
these automated cars be just 1/5 of your transportation. You get the car
from point A to point B for 10 miles then you jump on a train, or a bike,
or a motorcycle or something like that where it’s, and BMW’s idea is that
they could be there with you the whole time. You could have some
connectivity where the car knows you, the motorcycle knows you, the train
Steve: So they’re looking at cars as part of a larger problem set which is
moving you from point A to point B and how can they be part of the rest of
that problem set.
Steve: They’re going to make some filthy cash off of that.
Tim: Yeah they are.
Neal: That’s what it’s all about. It’s about making money.
Tim: Well I think that’s, well we don’t actually have any events coming up
in our office.
Steve: We don’t.
Tim: We had our experience deb yesterday.
Steve: Is it too early to start talking about Las Vegas?
Tim: I guess not, but I’m not really into the self promotion like you.
Steve: All right. I’ll do it for you and you can pretend you didn’t like
Tim: You do mine and I’ll do yours.
Steve: So coming up in June, Tim Wright will be appearing on the main stage
at Future Insights Live in Las Vegas.
Tim: Yeah, thanks Steve. With no pants on.
Steve: You son of a bitch. I’ll be there too.
Tim: Steve and I will be speaking at Future Insights Live in Las Vegas June
18th and 19th, we’ll be there and we would like to see you in person. So I
think that’s about what, go ahead if you have something.
Steve: If you stand up during Tim’s recitation and yell I love dirt, we
will provide you with some sort of prize.
Tim: OK. So as usual you can get us on Twitter @thedirtshow. Please review
us on itunes or your podcasting app of choice. We’d love to hear from you
and we’ve got some great reviews from folks. We always reach out personally
if we can find you. We Facebook stalk and Google stalk all of our listeners
Neal: You guys are such creeps.
Tim: I know. Neil, how can people get a hold of you if they want to talk
Neal: Oh, they could, let’s see they could e-mail me. Should I give out my
Tim: If you want.
Neal: Is that allowed.
Tim: However you want to be contacted.
Neal: How about I just give out my Twitter? It’s @shitjustgotneil
Tim: Nice. We’ll put that in the show notes too. I think that’s all we have
for today. Thank you for listening and we will try and do better next time.