- The haptics team evaluates the control concepts in new models
- Assessing subjective impressions in an objective way
- The main objective is to make life easier for the driver
You could describe Gerhard Mauter as an engineer for the tactile
senses, but this would only be a very superficial description of his
job at AUDI AG in Ingolstadt, where he manages the "Control Haptics
Team", which is usually referred to as "the haptics team" for
convenience. Haptics is the science of the tactile sense. There is,
however, much more involved than the fact that an Audi is expected to
feel good - the work is also about ergonomics and operating logic,
light-action controls and how they look, pressing buttons and all the
various pulling, pushing, shifting, turning, feeling and touching
actions that people perform in cars.
Gerhard Mauter, when asked how one gets a job like this, replies:
"It's important to take haptics seriously, and a certain degree of
sensitivity is also required. This kind of sensitivity is not really
based on physical properties such as the way the fingertips react; it
is more of a process of awareness that takes place in your brain."
For more than two years, Mauter has been head of the haptics team,
which was established in this form in 1995 by the current Chairman of
the Board of Management, Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen, when he was Head of
Technical Development at AUDI AG. It is obvious that haptics are
taken very seriously at Audi.
Dr. Peter Tropschuh, Head of the Vehicle Concepts Division at
Audi, explains: "A car's haptics are of fundamental importance. The
haptic impressions decisively influence the customer's purchasing
decision. They have to feel comfortable when sitting in an Audi. In
order to guarantee this for all our models, we set up the haptics
The team's main goal, which it approaches with all due
sensitivity, is to draw up a general haptic concept for each vehicle.
To achieve this, it becomes involved in the development of new Audi
models at a very early stage. The haptics team evaluates all control
elements inside and outside the vehicle during the development
process, from the outside door handles to the ignition lock and
from the gear shift and steering-column levers to the electrical
switches. The team has even examined the haptic characteristics of
the pedals. "After the evaluation process, we make recommendations
that the technical or design development departments translate into
reality," says Gerhard Mauter.
The team members meet every two weeks to discuss new projects.
"Sometimes we start with pictures and sketches and make the first
haptic evaluations. Usually, however, a developer presents a
component, which we discuss and then evaluate in accordance with
defined criteria," says Barbara Hondyk, who is currently the only
woman in the haptics team and usually works in equipment product
The "hard core" of the haptics team currently consists of 16
members from all areas such as component development, controlling,
quality assurance, design and marketing. The aim is for the main
occupations of the part-time haptics specialists to be as varied as
possible in order to simulate a representative cross-section of
It doesn't stop there, though: the haptics team organises several
events every year in order to obtain feedback from customers. They
include handing out extensive questionnaires to Audi's plant
employees when they take delivery of new cars. As these 'guinea-pigs'
only evaluate the Audi model range, the haptics team also organises
benchmark tests in which Audi products are compared with competitors'
products. This is closely related to the comparative tests using
external candidates that are carried out by neutral organisations.
The results of such tests are also used in development work.
Nevertheless, Gerhard Mauter is aware that "you can't satisfy
every customer, but you can maximise customer satisfaction. If we
achieve 80 percent, that means we have a very good haptics concept."
It is far from easy to achieve figures as high as that. "It is
difficult to express haptic qualities in figures and units. Haptic
evaluation is very subjective, but our task is to make it objective
and more generally applicable."
Meanwhile, the haptics experts at Audi have established
specifications that internal developers and suppliers have to comply
with. Audi control elements are evaluated according to the following
criteria: light action, moderate control movement distances, defined
stops, exact guidance, low noise emissions and a definite tactile and
acoustic response at the switching point. "Customers want to receive
a clear response when activating a function. If they press a button,
for instance, how the effort that's needed actually builds up is
response also includes acoustic feedback such as an audible click.
The right combination of those two gives customers the certainty that
the function has indeed been activated," says team member Torsten
Kolkhorst, who works in the steering wheel design area.
Klaus Nonnenbroich, a developer in the cockpit, structure and
surfaces area, adds: "A tiny plastic switch located behind a large,
rigid surface is a disappointment. It operates under false pretences.
The same is true for surfaces - if a surface looks like aluminium, it
ought to be aluminium."
If a team member tests a component, he or she has to complete a
questionnaire with which its material, shape, location and operating
feel are evaluated. Some of the questions asked, for instance, are:
What do you think about the material, the manufacturing quality or
the shape? How do you assess the position and ease of access?
The main factors are actuating force and sequence, movement,
direction and sound. Another important question is whether the shape
of the control element communicates how it is to be operated. Gerhard
Mauter describes this as "operating logic" or "blind control".
"We want to make life easier for drivers. The less they are
distracted while operating the controls, the better," says Mauter.
Customers' expectations also have to be taken account of when
designing new control concepts. These are the result of acquired
processes and therefore memorised action models. This is why
psychological support is required for haptic evaluation. A control
process is a complex matter and has to be analysed in detail.
The head of the team explains, "Operating haptics are only
perceived unconsciously (with certain restrictions). One could put it
this way: if the customer doesn't notice anything particular and
feels comfortable in the car, we have done our job well." Team member
Frank Knauber, who is in charge of door and side panels in the
controlling area, adds, "When the customer notices that every switch
and lever in an Audi is in the right spot and the switches respond
the way the customers expect intuitively, then we were successful!"
On the basis of existing analyses it is not yet possible to decide
whether there are different preferences among individual groups of
customers. The head of the haptics team, however, is convinced that
"women make more marked haptic distinctions than men", for example.
There are also cultural differences. "In some markets, customers are
certainly more tolerant towards faults than here in Germany, for
instance, says Gerhard Mauter.
Mauter and his colleagues are working toward homogenous haptics
for all control elements of an Audi model and a comprehensive general
concept - an "Audi feeling" that communicates convenience and comfort
to the driver. In view of the high quality claimed for Audi models,
everything has to match: the shape of the door handles, the sound of
the doors closing, the handwheel for adjusting the back restraints,
the indicator lever or the surface quality of the gear lever knob.
At the same time, the Audi feeling cannot be specified so easily,
because careful differentiation is necessary when considering all the
control elements. You cannot compare the action of a door handle and
an indicator lever. "This is due to the technology, the physical
facts and the customers' different expectations regarding the control
element in question," says haptic team member Ulrich Weiss, an
interior designer at Audi.
Haptic differentiation of the individual Audi model lines is even
more difficult. Says Gerhard Mauter: "Of course an Audi TT's haptics
are slightly firmer, to underline its sports character. The haptic
characteristics of our sedans also differ, though this doesn't mean
that the haptic quality of an Audi A3 is necessarily worse than that
of an Audi A8." Differences occur almost automatically due to the
discrepancy in component and development costs. More investment may
be made in haptics for a D-segment car such as the A8, for instance.
These cars also have more electrical standard features or optional
extras, which naturally results in more exclusive haptic
Note to editorial staff:
A photo of a haptics test in the driver's area of an Audi TT
Roadster is available through obs (dpa).
Text and photos are also available at http://www.audi-press.com
under "Topics, features, stories". Until 30 December 2001, the
temporary user name is: aupr0152 and the password: lsi351 for
accessing the press database. From 31 December 2001 to 6 January
2002, the user name is: aupr0153 and the password: bki032.