A frozen computer is frustrating, but a frozen touchscreen in an automobile is a much bigger deal. That’s why engineers push the touchscreen buttons on the Buick IntelliLink infotainment system more than 2 million times every week, ensuring it consistently responds to user commands.
Multi-function touchscreen systems, which bundle controls and menus for several systems into one interface, are increasingly common in automobiles. From playing MP3 files to placing phone calls, planning a navigation route or adjusting climate controls, touch screens are tasked with handling more complex functions than ever and doing it seamlessly to the user.
Much like opening too many windows on your home computer, mobile multitasking can tax some infotainment systems, and force the system to reboot.
“Car shoppers expect their in-car infotainment systems to offer not only a full range of convenience features but also complete dependability and functionally,” said Karl Brauer, senior editor of Kelley Blue Book. “That means a rapid response to user inputs and hardware components that consistently withstand consumer demands.”
To make IntelliLink robust, General Motors’ engineers subjected the system to exhaustive testing inside and outside the car. IntelliLink’s human-machine interface, or HMI, which includes the touchscreen liquid crystal display, or LCD, is hooked up to a state-of-the-art automated test bench, complete with cameras that constantly monitor the touchscreen.
The test bench fully replicates the various modules and components connected to the HMI while testing IntelliLink at a speed no human engineer can match. The stability lab can simulate 210 days of continuous in-car use within a week. Depending on the test performed, the lab can also subject IntelliLink systems to the equivalent of more than 2 million touchscreen pushes in the same period.
“We test our systems in real vehicles, but as humans, we can only log so many hours inside a car,” said Robert Rimkus, engineering group manager for GM’s Next Generation Infotainment systems. “These automated test stations help us push IntelliLink to its limits, ensuring customers get a system that’s consistently reliable in their own vehicles.”
Those simulated fingertaps and pushes mimic what an actual user would do while on the road based on customer feedback and design test procedures. For example, one simulation mirrors the audio, climate, and navigation control inputs a driver would make while making a road trip from Detroit to Chicago.
Other tests replicate situations owners may subconsciously encounter in the real world.
“When you shut off and leave a car, it takes the infotainment system as long as three to four minutes to fully go to sleep, much like any other computer,” said Rimkus. “You’re not always given that luxury in the real world. What if you stop at a gas station to grab a quick drink? The system hasn’t fully shut off, but it needs to quickly reboot when you turn the ignition key.”
The automation lab replicates other potential real-world use by staying close to GM road test engineers who drive pre-production vehicles. Issues noted during these early engineering drives can quickly be replicated within the confines of the automation lab, allowing developers to quickly find and address software or hardware issues that might push a driver’s buttons.