Audi places great value on the ergonomics of its automobiles – their control and display strategies are clearly structured and intuitive to understand. Now the premium manufacturer is firing the next rocket stage with the next generation Multi Media Interface (MMI) and the Audi virtual cockpit.
History of the Audi MMI
The first steps towards a MMI operating concept were made 17 years ago – its development began on paper in 1997. Even back then control was separated from display, and the control unit with the central rotary pushbutton was placed on the console of the center tunnel – a location that offered ideal positioning of the driver’s hand.
Extensive customer surveys helped to refine the concept. An Audi S8 served as the test platform. In 2001, the brand presented the system to the public – the Avantissimo show car introduced the MMI with a TV tuner and Internet access.
In the following year, the system celebrated its market premiere in the new Audi A8 – with an electrically extending monitor and an entire bundle of control modules distributed throughout the car. Some units of the luxury sedan already had online telematic services on-board, and so they were far ahead of their time.
The new A8 model series of 2010 introduced another global innovation – MMI touch. Audi attained the top position among the global competition when it introduced a touchpad for inputting alphanumeric characters and symbols in many languages and a further optimized voice dialog system.
In the compact A3 model series, Audi is presenting the latest production level of its user control concept. It is based on the Modular Infotainment Platform (MIB), which processes all functions at high speed. Over the past 10 years, Audi developers boosted the computing power of the MMI by nearly a factor of 15 while reducing its weight by a factor of 10.
The driver controls functions either by voice control or from the MMI terminal. In the Audi A3, the MMI touch pad and the rotary pushbutton have been merged into a touchwheel: a touch-sensitive pad is implemented on the top surface of the control wheel. MMI touch detects the letters and numbers that the driver writes on the pad when inputting an address or a phone number; and the system provides acoustic feedback after each character is input.
Two rocker switches in the area in front of the terminal give users access to the most important areas of phone/navigation and media/radio; the switches are rounded out by a menu button and a back button. Four soft keys complete the user terminal; they are used to control subfunctions and volume control with an integrated Skip function for skipping tracks.
The LED display, which is only eleven millimeters (0.43 in) thick, outputs razor sharp 3D graphic images with a resolution of 800x480 pixels that are rich in contrast.
A special lamination process is used to mount its cover glass directly to the surface of the TFT screen. This improves its appearance and readability even in bright light. The painted housing is made of ultralight magnesium, which reduces its weight by around 50 grams. High-gloss and chrome accents lend it an elegant note.
MMI touch technology is not just exciting because it is easy to operate; it also makes a contribution towards safer driving. The interplay of handwriting recognition with acoustic feedback shortens operating actions, so that the driver can keep looking at the road.
New generation MMI operating concepts
Audi is continually developing the MMI interface. At the 2014 CES, the brand is presenting its new generation MMI. The primary benefits of the new generation are its simplified user operation and the universality of its possible applications. The premium carmaker is presenting three concepts at CES. The first is a classic version with an MMI terminal and an infotainment display in the middle of the instrument panel. The Audi virtual cockpit, which will soon launch in the new Audi TT production model, is the second concept. It is a decidedly sporty version, in which the infotainment display and instrument cluster merge to form a flexible, driver-oriented unit. The brand is presenting the Audi Smart Display as a third concept. In a mobile version with touchscreen operation, the driver can remove the unit from the car and check out its simplicity outside of the vehicle – here the automotive world melds with the fast-moving world of consumer electronics.
New generation MMI
In introducing a new generation MMI, Audi is opening a new chapter in the history of HMI concepts – the MMI terminal and its menu structure were essentially redesigned from the ground up. This has resulted in simple, intuitive operation with flat hierarchies, which are fully oriented towards the needs of the driver.
The terminal of the new MMI still revolves around the familiar rotary pushbutton and MMI touch. Similar to the system already implemented in the A3, the touchpad and the rotary pushbutton merge to form a touchwheel with a touch-sensitive pad on its top surface. This pad is used to detect handwriting. New in this generation is high-resolution detection of wheel turning movements. The rotary pushbutton, whose rotary position is precisely monitored with hundredth of a millimeter precision by an optical sensor, offers users control of lists and maps that is nearly continuously variable.
The latest generation MMI touch also understands multi-finger gestures. For example, users can use two fingers to scroll through lists or zoom on the map, just as they are accustomed to doing on their smart phones. The two rocker switches for the most important menus – Navigation/map Phone, Radio and Media – have also been preserved. The primary difference is that the previous four buttons have been reduced to two function buttons, which significantly improves blind operation. The left button calls up the restructured submenu, and the right button accesses context-dependent options and settings, just like the right mouse button of a PC that is familiar to customers. In the new Audi TT, the main menu button and back button are located centrally beneath the touchwheel.
The new operating logic offers the same mode of operation that customers are familiar with in their smart phones and tablets. All frequently used functions are intelligently laid out for quick access.
The driver can access the main menus – such as Audi connect, Navigation, Map, Phone, Media, Radio, Sound, Vehicle and Options – by selecting them directly or from the start screen. A submenu is assigned to many of them for specific functionalities (left button) – e.g. the Radio menu has a submenu for radio band selection, and the Map menu has one for traffic information.
The button on the right is used to set additional options for a selected menu item; it is similar to the right mouse button that is familiar from PCs. In the Navigation menu, for example, the user might choose to be navigated to an input destination, to have parking spaces shown for the destination area or to save the destination as a favorite.
A special highlight of the new Audi MMI is MMI search. This is a practical function that assists the driver in searching for a term, simplifying the search. MMI search is available in every main menu. The results list is shown right away while the user is inputting – generally just a few characters suffice to come up with the term. In the Radio and Media menus, a character string leads directly to the desired radio station, track, album or performer.
In the Vehicle menu, synonyms may be used to find vehicle functions. For example, it is sufficient to enter just the word light to list all lighting functions such as Coming home and Leaving home and ambient lighting.
MMI search is especially helpful in navigation. When inputting a navigation destination, MMI search permits free text input without having to use a rigid formula. In most cases, just a few characters are sufficient to find any destination in Europe. It is no longer necessary to input the country. In the results display, the MMI takes the current location of the car into consideration, so that hits for the immediate vicinity are displayed first. When searching for a street near the car’s position, it is generally only necessary to input the first few characters of the street name. When looking for a restaurant in any European city, all the user needs to do is input the first characters of the restaurant name and the first characters of the city name separated by a blank character; then the MMI lists relevant hits with addresses.
Most commands may also be given by voice input in the MMI. Voice control has also been further developed; the system now understands many phrases from everyday language usage.
Audi virtual cockpit
Another significant innovation that the brand with the four rings is presenting in the MMI area is the Audi virtual cockpit, a fully digital instrument cluster of the future. Its contemporary TFT display has a 12.3 inch diagonal. Its high resolution of 1,440 x 540 pixels makes all screen contents razor sharp, brilliant and rich in contrast. High-end animation and lighting effects round out its state-of-the-art look.
A fast graphics processor is at work in the background – Audi is the first carmaker in the world to use the Tegra 30 chip of the Tegra 3 series by Nvidia, a company with whom Audi has partnered for many years now. For the tachometer, the processor generates 60 frames per second in the Audi virtual cockpit, so that the needle shows the engine speed with absolute precision.
The driver can toggle between two user interfaces (modes) by pressing the “View” button on the multifunction steering wheel. In Infotainment mode, a central window dominates the view – it offers a big stage for the navigation map or for lists in the Phone, Radio and Audio areas. In this mode, the tachometer and speedometer, the latter with a digital display, appear as small round instruments on the left and right sides. In the Classic view, the middle window is smaller, and the instruments – with black scales, red needles and white numerals – are about as large as today’s instruments.
In the Audi virtual cockpit, the user can have any of the available information displayed – e.g. the navigation arrow, dynamic vehicle animations and images from the rear camera as well as graphics of the assistance systems. The display changes its context-related color scheme according to the main menu selected. In the Media menu, for example, the color is orange as usual, while the screen is tinted green for the Phone menu. Indicators with fixed positions are displayed along the lower border; they show the outside temperature, clock time and odometer readings as well as warning and information symbols. LEDs indicate the engine coolant temperature and fuel level.
The equipment and data specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.