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Beijing 2016: Senova OffSpace is a thoughtful look at the family car interface of the future

26 April 2016 | by Owen Ready

Senova is part of BAIC, and its Offspace concept is perhaps illustrative of big things to come from the group which had a whole hall here in Beijing, replete with four home-grown brands, and JVs with Mercedes, Hyundai and Suzuki.

Senova Offspace 2

The Offspace concept has been designed to give the tougher exterior look and feel of an SUV, but a cabin which has the volume of an MPV — accommodating the commonplace Chinese family arrangement of mum, dad, kid(s) and grandparents travelling together.

Senova Offspace 11

The interior has a calm, restrained elegance which some serious thought has gone into.

Take the HMI, for example. The designers conducted research to understand Chinese priorities and needs when it comes to in-car information and UX. These result in the splitting of the primary display into three screen zones, which run across the car in the upper section of the IP.

Senova Offspace 12

These show vehicle info (left), outside communication including navigation and keeping in touch with friends (in the middle) and health/wellness (right).

So a cross-car touchscreen system? No, the designers believe that to create a more premium experience and an easy to use interface, the car needed to be ergonomically sound. That means putting screens up high, underneath the windscreen where they’re best placed from a vision point of view, but where it’s out of reach to a hand.

Senova Offspace 14

That doesn’t matter because — as the premium German brands believe — you’re usually better off operating a screen via a remote control unit, where your hand is supported. You therefore control what’s on the Offspace’s three screens by stroking your hand around a tunnel-mounted touchpad, tapping to select and so on.

Senova Offspace 6

Moving between the three screens is simple — three large buttons on the console can be operated sight-unseen, to select which screen you want to be using. The entire trackpad surface then acts as controller for the selected screen.

It’s neat and (unlike many concept car HMIs) works flawlessly and logically when demonstrated by the design team. The research and thinking is impressive, as is the desire to actually make something that works well and intuitively rather than jumping headlong down an ever-bigger touchscreen hole. The research-based approach, attention to detail and neat execution suggest that Senova is a brand to watch closely in the future.