As advanced as our technologies have become, most of our communications with them still go in one direction: We tell them what to do, and they do it. In science fiction, computers and other machines have long talked back, and only with the advent of digital assistants have those dreams edged closer to reality.
But with the arrival of the Volkswagen ID.4, there’s now a new way for the vehicle to communicate with its passengers. Born from Volkswagen research into potential future autonomous technologies and decades of experience with human-machine interface systems, the ID. Light represents a breakthrough in intelligent, two-way communications between the passengers and the car – pointing to the future of driving. And the Volkswagen ID.4 is the perfect place to start.
Standard on all ID.4 models, the ID. Light is a thin line of 54 multi-colored LEDs at the bottom of the windshield behind the cockpit. Designed to be visible in a driver’s peripheral vision or at certain angles from outside the vehicle, the ID. Light communicates several types of messages through color and patterns. All of those have been carefully designed and engineered to help keep the driver focused on the road while giving key feedback.
“We were looking for a new kind of communication between the car and the human,” said Mathias Kuhn, Head of User Interface Design at Volkswagen. “We wanted to create a minimalistic, yet revolutionary interaction that was both easy to understand and emotional.”
Interaction with the ID. Light begins the moment the driver sits down in the ID.4 with a “welcome” animation in white and blue, letting the driver know the ID.4 is ready to go, since unlike regular vehicles, EVs have no engine noise to indicate they’re powered up; a reverse of these colors displays when the driver leaves the car. When using the in-vehicle navigation system, the ID. Light shows upcoming directional prompts with an animated blue line – for example, flowing to the left for left turns. If the driver or passenger want to engage the car’s voice commands, ID. Light responds in white in front of the speaking occupant. To help manage demands on the driver’s attention, incoming phone calls trigger a green flash in the center, and in case of an emergency braking event, ID. Light vividly flashes red.¹
When plugging in the ID.4 to charge, the ID. Light pulses with a green status bar, giving its owner a clear a way to see the battery charging state from outside the vehicle at a distance.
The idea for the ID.4 was developed from experience with automated driving technologies and vehicles Volkswagen first demonstrated at the Computer Electronics Show in 2015. Volkswagen experts realized that as driver assist systems and screens multiplied inside vehicles, so too would demands on drivers’ attention.
“As screens in the vehicle grow bigger, it can take more time for your brain to look at the display and process all the information you need to receive from them,” said Stefan Franke, the “father” of the part at Volkswagen. “Even hearing a navigation system tell you a direction makes your brain pause a second to understand the remark. We knew we needed to find new ways to communicate with drivers to help minimize distractions from the driving task.”
Addressing that challenge led to many hours of research and human-machine interface design that allows the ID. Light to be both simple and highly intelligent. The ID. Light will not show two “messages” at once; it’s programmed with a hierarchy to provide only the most important data at any given moment. The location at the bottom of the windshield puts it in the driver’s peripheral vision, letting the driver see it without glancing away from the road. And its colors and animations are a carefully curated syntax that’s friendly, universal and easy to grasp – giving drivers the information they need while they keep their eyes on the road.
“We wanted drivers to have a light assistant, a companion in the car that gives the needed information with the exact minimum amount of thinking needed to understand it,” said Sascha Ziebart, Lead Developer at Volkswagen. “It’s like the assistant is living in the car in front of you. It doesn’t feel like you’re talking to a machine because you have a face you’re looking into.”
The ID.3 (sold in Europe) and ID.4 are the first Volkswagen EVs to feature ID. Light as standard, and as Volkswagen moves toward the future, the ID. Light will be able to add new capabilities via software updates.
“We can carefully extend our functions and visual metaphors based on customer feedback and new technologies,” said Thorb Baumgarten, Human Factors Specialist at Volkswagen. “The ID. Light should be ideal for communication between the driver and a vehicle for many future innovations.”
¹ When using the ID. Light feature, always pay careful attention to the road and do not drive while distracted. See owner’s manual for further details and important limitations.