Ferrari has always been at the technological forefront. Now, advanced Human-Machine Interface tech, which can track even the quickest eye movements, is helping develop new dashboards and improving the driving experience
Electronics have revolutionised cars, in terms of both production and driving experience. Nowhere is this truer, perhaps, than with on-board electronics, which have changed the face of the cockpit to an unprecedented level in the space of a few short years. In Ferrari, these technologies have been used to broaden and enhance the driving experience as a whole, ensuring that Prancing Horse cars remain different from all other vehicles on the planet.
The development process is multi-step. At first, the ergonomics team at Maranello works on defining the driving position, a process more about numbers - distances, angles, alignment and myriad other parameters - than anything else. The results are then shared with Human Machine Interface (HMI) team colleagues, and the two work on creating the cockpit proper.
When working together, the teams’ most important ally is the driving simulator. This is used to recreate driving conditions in a precise and repeatable way. The process starts with “free interaction”, which takes place on a selection of virtual roads that are very different from each other and which create a virtual driving experience that is extremely similar to reality. The routes themselves are the virtual equivalents of the ones used in the real world, such as - for example - the Puianello Scenario, a Ferrari test-driver classic.
After the initial shakedown, the team focusses on refining and honing the HMI on the simulator - testing the position of the objects on the virtual display, adjusting colour schemes and screen reaction times. All of the parameters are monitored using eye-tracking technology which involves training a special video camera on the driver, particularly their face, to study their movements and behaviours. Eye-tracking measures the time spent not looking at the road, how many seconds it takes to complete a certain operation, and a thousand other parameters that determine a driver’s actions (and distractions) while at the wheel. The technology itself is evolving rapidly thanks to biometrics, which allow additional parameters - such as pupil dilation, heart and perspiration rate - to be added to the ‘equation’, bringing even greater depth and precision to the analysis.
The final debugging process, however, demands reality and the HMI Car, a 488 GTB that looks more like a mobile laboratory than anything else. Here, the toughest - and completest - test of all is still the road. This is because the unpredictability of traffic and weather conditions cause cognitive loads to shift and vary, generating the perfect conditions for ironing out any final glitches. Safety is not the only factor at stake: the HMI and everything linked to it can influence the very substance of a Ferrari, by which we mean driving pleasure.
So, it is not enough to merely produce something that looks gorgeous and is beautifully crafted: it has to do what it is supposed to do without fail, again and again. Oftentimes this compels the teams to think completely outside the box, to apply concepts and ideas that may already exist but have little or nothing to do with cars. “It might seem paradoxical,” says Maximilian Romani, head of the HMI and Ergonomics department, “but if you really want to interpret a requirement in a way that is one hundred percent Ferrari, you have to suppress the legacy of tradition. This is what we call ‘Ferraritudine’: a way of working that rules nothing out and doesn’t establish any predetermined limits. It forces you to invent something different from what history and the legend of Ferrari would otherwise force upon you.”