Working at Volvo -- Robert Bröstrom

by Volvo Car Corporation October 25th, 2011

Position: Technical Specialist and PhD
Department: Product Development – EESE (electrical)
Age: 40
Education: Master of engineering with specialization in human-machine interaction, degree from Luleå University of Technology
At Volvo Cars: Since 2001
More about the position:
Technical Specialist within HMI but also Industry PhD at SAFER which is a Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers. It’s a joint research unit where partners from the Swedish automotive industry, academia and authorities cooperate to develop new safety systems and solutions within the field of vehicle and traffic safety.


Describe your work at SAFER?
I do research within HMI (Human Machine Interaction) which is the interface between a human being and a machine. HMI can be everything from how a handle is opened and how you enter a car, to understanding how knobs and controls are used once you are seated. My research area is within displays and the information shown. A current topic is the use of mobile phones in the car. People phone and text while driving so we have to start from that behaviour, the need of contact, and find solutions to improve the safety.

How is the research carried out?
I read reports and follow developments and recent theories within the area. We arrange tests and simulation studies, for example we can study the behaviour of people phoning and choosing songs from their mp3 player and how the concentration is affected. Do you take your eyes off the road, do you wobble etc? We also attend conferences to present our results and have discussions with the 20 other Industry PhDs at Volvo Cars.

How do you work with HMI at Volvo Cars?
I work at Vehicle HMI, which is a part of the electrical department within Product Development. We implement HMI within telephony, navigation and driving information but also within active safety, for example how warning signals should function. There’s a lot of ongoing development in the area. An example is once again mobile phones, where the use of them has changed during recent years. People have an increasing need to be reachable and stay online. We have to take this into account when developing new systems. We work with similar functionalities in the cars as in mobile phones so that you can reach the Internet and have access to navigation and traffic information.

What competence is needed in this area for the future?
The technology development in recent years has changed the skills profile in the group. Today we are more focused on knowledge in graphical user interface and behavioural studies than on traditional engineering. For example, when holding a phone ¬– what happens and how should the systems function with the user? We see a trend towards more iterative development, simulations and tests in car simulators. In the future, skills in interaction design and programming, for example in Flash, will be increasingly important and we will require persons with IT competence and knowledge of cognitive systems.

Is there any collaboration with the other business areas at Volvo Cars?
HMI stretches across several areas. To design a door so that it’s easy to open has not only to do with the design of the door handle but also with the underlying construction. You can’t just randomly place a knob in the car – it affects the construction department who builds the technique and software. We work closely with the Design department –  they design the controls, knobs etc. and we work with simulations so that you can actually feel the navigation or the climate system for example. We also work closely with Product Planning so that new systems are integrated in the planning at an early stage.

What’s the best part of your work?
The complexity appeals to me. That we have to find the best possible solutions combining design, function and economy. HMI is an area in focus and it’s constantly growing. A couple of years ago there were only a radio and a CD-player in the car. Now there’s telephony, navigation, games, mp3, satellite radio, DVD and more. It’s also very stimulating working with safety which always has been an area of focus for Volvo but has developed very in recent years. 


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