As I walk up to the hotel where I am to meet up with Paul Aldighieri, I have no clue what to expect.
Aldighieri is doing some media interviews before he is to deliver the keynote address at the Canadian Universities Technology Conference, hosted by Toronto’s Ryerson University.
Aldighieri is a professor in Human Factors, as well as an ergonomics engineer, and is currently a member of Ford’s Global Human Machine Interface (HMI) team.
With those credentials, I’m picturing maybe a cross between Iron Man and my Grade 10 math teacher, Mr. Runstettler.
But Aldighieri, a Windsor native and University of Waterloo grad, is very much his own man, an articulate, youngish, urbane guy, wearing a black T-shirt and blue jeans.
The theme of the conference is how people interact with technology — something the HMI team has been examining for the last four years, as it developed MyFord and MyLincoln, the automaker’s new way of connecting the driver to all the vehicle’s information and entertainment features.
“In 2006, Derek Kuzak (VP, Global Product Design) was looking at what was coming, this onslaught of information possibilities. He determined that we had to do something differently, to help people manage information in a car. He told us to come up with ‘a mouse.’ What the mouse did for the computing industry, that’s what he wanted for the car — that was the assignment.”
The HMI team then formed, the first cross-functional team to work on this aspect of the vehicle.
It consisted of Aldighieri (Human Factors), a product designer, an ergonomics engineer, and an electronics engineers. MyLincoln debuted on the 2011 Lincoln MKX, while MyFord debuted on the 2011 Ford Edge and Focus. Basically, they do away with traditional joysticks and rotary dials, and use five-way controllers on the steering wheel, LED touch screens, and voice commands.
“Part of my speech will touch on Moore's law, which essentially states that there will always be more technology tomorrow than there is today,” says Aldighieri.
“There will always be more technology wanting to get into the car… But human capability isn’t really changing too much; we’re stuck with our neurons … So the job of the human-machine interface is to create strategies to bring those technologies under the (human capability) line. And in a car it’s even more critical, as there is also this big task called ‘driving.’”
But the saving grace of technology, according to Paul, is that technology also gives you the tools to manage those other technologies. The prime one for the vehicle moving forward will be voice command. How else, asks Aldighieri, could you deal with thousands of songs on your music player and hundreds of numbers in your phone contact list?
But do you feel weird talking to your car? I do. Paul says many others do too. So Ford’s voice command systems will be available in elevated stages, so you can take as much as you’re cool with.
But in the long run, I say you better get over it. Voice command, along with touch screens, is how it’s going to be.
Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.