Screens evolved in automobiles as a means of simplifying the way drivers could interact with increasingly complicated and button-filled dashboards, but, in the end, they may have turned out to be a grand own goal.
With the introduction of touch screens, the problem has worsened, not improved, because drivers have no chance of knowing what they are poking, slipping or sliding without really looking at it.
The answer can be found on touch screens, which offer a physical and tactile response that can be felt when using a soft (virtual) button or slider. That staccato crash when ABS is activated is probably one of the first forms of haptic response in car controls and, more recently, vibrating steering wheels as part of the lane exit or blind spot driver assistance systems. However, both are rather crude examples of what is now becoming a precise science.
Haptic displays have actuators embedded in them that contain crystals that expand when connected to an electric current due to the “piezo” effect. The current is triggered by the capacitive display when a soft button or toggle switch is pressed and the actuator expands so that you feel a click through the display. It is also possible to define a ridge that separates one button from another using the same concept. The driver may feel that the control has been activated, which makes it much easier to resist looking away from the road for a glance, during which time the car could have traveled 40 meters at highway speeds.
Hyundai has recently been showing the research it has been doing since 2015, testing new ideas on customers using driving simulators and test vehicles equipped with prototype central displays and instrument binoculars. Haptic screen replacements are also being developed for steering wheel switches after early research revealed that customers didnt really know what some of the steering wheel buttons were for.