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BYTON May Be the Next Jump Forward in Vehicle User Interface Design

Sam Abuelsamid
Oct 01, 2019

Smart Car

I drive a lot of different vehicles. My disdain for touchscreen interfaces in vehicles is well known to readers. As long as humans still have to actively drive vehicles, the proliferation of touch interfaces will remain problematic. When Chinese-based EV startup BYTON debuted its M-Byte concept at the 2018 CES, it took the growing screen trend to a new extreme with a 48-inch display spanning the entire dashboard. Needless to say, I was skeptical. Now that I’ve ridden in a prototype and tried it out, it’s actually a pretty decent idea.

During a recent trip to Silicon Valley, I visited BYTON’s US headquarters. There, I had the chance to ride along in one of the chassis development prototypes and spend time in an interior buck used for development of the digital interface.

Why Do I Dislike Touchscreens?

My opposition to touchscreens in the car comes down to driver distraction and cognitive load required to operate basic functions. With a touchscreen, you actually have to look at the screen to operate systems like infotainment and in some cases climate control. Screens are typically a stretched arms-length away with finger tips that wander as the vehicle moves. Between looking at the screen and trying to control motion of a finger, this requires far more concentration than tapping a phone being held in the other hand.

I prefer central physical control interfaces like those used by Mazda and BMW, where a rotary control on the console can be twisted, pushed, and pressed. This control scheme is quicker and more precise. These interfaces are typically combined with freestanding displays mounted vertically on top of the dashboard. This is closer to the driver’s line of sight so that they don’t have to look away from the road as much as with lower mounted screens used in older vehicles and in Teslas.

What Is BYTON’s Approach?

BYTON has taken this idea and extended it with its design. The large screen does not actually have a touch interface. Since the vehicle is a battery EV (BEV) with its compact propulsion system, the bulkhead and base of the windshield can be moved further away from the driver which gives a roomier and more open feeling in the cabin. With the screen mounted at the base of this more distant windshield, it is even closer to the driver’s normal line of sight, so less diversion and refocusing is required.

A major distraction point in current vehicles is drivers zooming in and out on the navigation display to see where they are. The large screen in the BYTON provides added real estate for navigation or other information, reducing this requirement and providing more content at a glance. The driver can control navigation, information, and climate control through a small stationary touchscreen that sits above the airbag in front of the steering wheel. Along with a pair of dials for features like volume, everything is available with the driver’s hands staying on the steering wheel.

A second touchscreen extending from the center armrest can be used by the passenger to manage infotainment and other exclusive functions such as ordering food on the go on the right side of the display.

Navigant Research’s Market Data: EV Market Forecasts report projects nearly 21 million annual BEV sales by 2030. As we move from conversion models to dedicated BEVs, design innovations that potentially reduce driver distractions and improve safety while enhancing user experience will increasingly be enabled by the flexibility that comes with electric propulsion.