“Human-Inter-what?” clipped Simon, peeking over his morning paper with a loud crinkle. A favorite farmer of seventy-eight years at my local coffee shop, Simon never failed to give me the truth precisely as he saw it. I had asked him what he thought of Human Machine Interface Technology. “Sounds like science fiction to me. Don’t we already interact – interface, whatever – with machines? How else are we supposed to run the things?”
I laughed, but in a down-to-earth, back-to-common-sense way, Simon was right on. One encyclopedia explains Human-Machine Interface (HMI) technology, also known as user interface technology as the whole means by which human users interact with a particular system, such as a device, computer program or machine. HMI provides a mechanism by which users can input or manipulate a system, and provides the system a way to output or produce the effects of the users’ manipulation.
It’s not really so complicated. HMI is a broad term describing the “layer” between a person interacting with the machine and the machine itself. Applications are varied – from medical prostheses, such as cochlear implants, to computer-human interactions to the operation of vehicular Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.
For example, Web-based user interfaces accept input and provide output by generating Web pages transmitted via the Internet, which are then viewed by users through Web browser programs. Different implementations are utilized to provide real-time control in a separate program, effectively abolishing the need to refresh a traditional HTML-based Web browser.
The more exciting technologies include touch interfaces, which serve as excellent examples of the public’s increasing demand to be in control of their environment and their machines. Touch interfaces are graphical user interfaces using a touch-screen display as a device for both input and output.
This insistence is becoming apparent in the automotive industry, where consumers are demanding to be well-connected and in control. Most vehicular GPS devices, for example, are touch interfaces. Steering wheel controls can also use HMI technology to keep drivers connected through different wireless and electronic apparatuses. Certain corporations are even releasing vehicles in which much of the cockpit is run by HMI technology, such as reconfigurable instrument clusters, reconfigurable head-up displays (HUD), warning systems and multifunctional controls.
The trend seems to be in fewer gauges – reducing six-gauge systems, for example, to fewer with reconfigurable displays. There may be more use of a center cockpit, touch screens and reconfigurable thin film transistor (TFT) displays in the future, as well.
A report about HMI technologies stated the importance for designers to understand that HMI determines an operator’s perception about a machine. Designers are of vital importance, it went on to say, because operators need to be able to trust the apparatus – and trust their interactions with it – in order to make the technology successful. How skillful and mindful HMI designers are in their work will, in large part, determine that. HMI empowerment will come through ease-of-use features, ease of programmability, easy understanding and clear information displays.
According to that study, a portion of the designer population still considers HMI just a tool, but many technologies with vital benefits are poised to make HMI the central command station for monitoring and control operations. This technology has the power to transform equipment into better interactive instruments.
Focus will increasingly be on the integration of hardware and software across horizontal and vertical lines, as well as on security issues associated with HMI software, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Escalating complexity and the high volume of connections requires this to be of current and future concern. Likewise, agility and portability are proving to be important trends in human-machine interaction and user experience research.