Shape Shifting Interface

Shape Shifting Interface

Team Members
Rance Pritchard
Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering

The future of automobile interfaces will be tactile and intuitive. I worked with Harman to design trade show demonstrations of their latest technology.

Contextual controls

Blue sky projects are fun right? Well this one felt beyond blue sky. The Harman team created a concept video showing their vision for the future of automobile interiors where controls would appear contextually when you needed them. How often do you take your eyes off the road to find the defogger or a specific radio preset? The idea of presenting a control to you before you even know you need it could cut back on driver distraction.

Demonstration of technology

We designed two pedestal mounted demonstrators. One was a shape-shifting control knob that would change contextually based on what was happening on a navigation screen. The second was a steering wheel that expanded and contracted underneath your fingers to give turn by turn directions or alert the driver of a potential hazard. I worked closely with a Boston-based engineering group that developed the robotic mechanicals while we refined the enclosure and experience.

Configurations and ergonomics

We explored a variety of configurations to create the ideal experience. The idea was to create a demo that anyone could walk up to and experience without the need for instruction.

Concept iterations


The shape-shifting knob consisted of 12 stacked disks that could each independently move and transform into a variety of shapes. The demonstrator housed a Mac mini to link the input from the knob to the screen. The enclosure was machined from solid ABS and breaks down into 7 separate parts for portability. We worked with a local motorcycle seat fabricator that stitched a beautiful leather cover over a 3D printed armrest portion.


The steering wheel was an entirely different challenge. We had a BMW M3 wheel and had to brainstorm how to modify it to expand and contract. I experimented with several stack-ups of materials and quickly created models with various technical fabrics. In the end, the existing wheel covering was carefully removed with a stretchy section sewn in and then hand sewn back onto the wheel.

A new challenge

We later teamed up with Harman to modify the interior of a BMW X4 to fit an array of pupil tracking cameras. By tracking driver's pupils you are able to determine overall cognitive load and emotional state. This technology will be instrumental in the next steps of developing smart self-driving cars.

Without access to the car or the CAD we went to a local BMW dealership and manually 3D scanned the interior of the car using smartphone photos. We designed three separate enclosures that fit on top of the dashboard that concealed an array of sensors and cameras.

“Driving while tired, distracted or over-stimulated may become a thing of the past, thanks to new technology unveiled by Harman. Harmans’s new proprietary eye and pupil tracking system measures high cognitive load and mental multitasking in the driver’s seat, and signals the car’s other safety systems to adapt to the driver’s state. The technology represents a major step forward in the domain of Advanced Safety and Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) for vehicles.”
Harman Press Release

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