How Washington Designed Its Center Stack

Software development is crucial for UW’s center stack

When approaching the center stack project, the University of Washington EcoCAR 2 team began by looking at some examples of interfaces of other cars such as the BMW iDrive, Ford MySync, and the existing Malibu interface. The team identified some pros and cons with each system’s electronic interfaces (such as iOS, Android and Windows Phone). Team members also thought that most systems required the driver to spend too much time with his or her eyes off the road in order to interact with the interface. Systems that minimized time with eyes off the road (such as iDrive), came with a tradeoff: a steep learning curve.

After looking at all of this information, the team decided upon four design goals for the UW center stack:

  • Safe – The user should be able to interact with the center stack with minimal time spent looking away from the road.
  • Intuitive – The user should be able to learn how to use the center stack as quickly as an iPhone or Android device.
  • Cool – Potential customers should look at the functionality and graphic design and desire it in their vehicles.
  • Green – The center stack should provide the driver with tools to be able to drive more efficiently.

The UW Center Stack utilizes many cutting edge technologies, including:

  • HTML5 – The center stack interface is implemented using HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript because of its large developer base and ability to produce a visually-stunning user interface.
  • QNXCAR 2 – The QNXCAR 2 operating system runs the HTML5 apps the team created in a Webkit-style browser running on a Freescale processor board and provides the critical link to hardware interfaces such as the vehicle CAN bus.
  • Sencha Touch 2 – The Sencha Touch 2 platform enables UW to develop HTML5 apps in a more modular manner and with reduced boilerplate code.
  • GitHub – By using a private GitHub account for the source control, the team can easily have all three of its software developers work simultaneously from any location.
  • AWS – To track driver behaviors and add functionality such as getting vehicle charging updates on an iPhone, the center stack will use its internet connection to communicate with Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS becomes the key to processing and presenting data from the center stack to the user beyond just the screen in the vehicle.

The UW Center Stack team is comprised of three software developers and two graphic designers. Using the technologies described above, along with their own creativity, the team is working to refine a user interface that meets all of its design goals in Year Three!