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The secret chamber that keeps our test drivers in one piece

HERE is behind 80 per-cent of Europe and North America’s in-dash navigation systems.


But, of course, these systems don’t arrive 100 per-cent finished from the designers’ and engineers’ minds. They go through dozens of prototypes, and we test lots of ideas that don’t work to find the ones that do.

So how do we do that without… you know… killing all our test drivers?

The answer, of course, is that HERE uses driving simulators with ordinary members of the public for many months before any of the designs find their way into a real car.


Senior User Researcher Annegret Lasch shows us round the test suite at HERE Berlin that makes human sacrifice unnecessary.

Testing times

First, there are the labs for the desktop and mobile apps, and very early versions of driving interfaces. These consist of two rooms with a one-way mirror between them. Test subjects go into one room with a moderator. The designers and engineers watch anxiously on the other side of the mirror, while multiple cameras record every movement for later analysis.

“In early tests, we use paper mock-ups of the apps,” says Annegret. “Then we move on to ‘click dummies’: imitations of the apps, made in PowerPoint or similar. Then Alphas and on to Betas.” And of course, the tests continue after an app has been released, to see the impact of any proposed changes.

Annegret explains that, typically, test subjects are given tasks – like “find motoring directions to get from here to Frankfurt”. Her team sees if the subjects can get started quickly; if there are any hesitations, and any other difficulties they have in completing the tasks. They’re also asked about anything they found confusing, what they think different parts of the interface do, and so forth.


On the road

The star attraction at the lab, though, is the car driving simulator. In a room to itself, this is like a life-size car cockpit set up against three large screens that show the road ahead. The room itself is darkened, so that drivers can immerse themselves in the situation. Weather and lighting conditions for the simulation can be set from a computer in the adjacent room.

Annegret warns me that I might get car-sick, as I settle into the “car”. It’s a stripped-down system, with only the steering wheel, pedals and the dashboard navigation.

Inside and around the car are cameras, recording every movement. Eye-tracking cameras are able to show how long and how often drivers look away from the road, to the HERE navigation dashboard and other instruments.


And we’re off. I didn’t feel sick, but I found it surprisingly easy to suddenly find I was driving at over 120 km/h and that keeping control was trickier than it looks. It might take me a few more goes before doing more than staying on the road will be possible.

The aim, of course, is that people shouldn’t look at the in-dash system too often or for too long. When they perform operations with it while driving, like finding a local ATM while en-route to somewhere else, it should take as few, quick steps as possible.

Industry standard

There are standard tests for distraction, common across the industry, that we work to make our systems pass before they are installed into a car.

Annegret explains: “The toughest of these are the North American NHTSA guidelines, so we work to pass those. This proposes a scenario where you’re driving at 80 km/h, following another car, while using the system to perform tasks.”

To pass, there are three criteria which must each be met. The average glance time at the system needs to be below two seconds. The percentage of glances that last over two seconds needs to be less than 15 per-cent of the total. And that total glance time needs to be below 12 seconds.


Improving the system

The driving simulator is due to be upgraded soon. Currently, it shows country roads and villages in Southern Germany. Annegret is working with colleagues in the HERE Carlsbad office to have our real-life model of the world – the one reproduced by our mapping cars – converted into a playground for the driving simulator.

This is a great idea. While using the same system as other providers is necessary to be able to provide standardised test conditions, having a real-life map of an actual city will add an extra challenge, and an extra sense of immersion for test drivers.

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