Rapid graphic user interface (GUI) development for sustainable transportation

Features - Cover Story

To get its solar-powered electric vehicle (sEV) to market in less than a year, Aptera turned to Crank Software and their Storyboard platform to develop a human-machine interface (HMI).

Battery management software (BMS) in Crank Software’s Storyboard platform tool.
Photo courtesy of Crank Software

With 180 solar cells integrated into the vehicle body, a lightweight aerodynamic shape, and an ability to reach up to a 45-mile range per day, Aptera Motors’ three-wheeled electric vehicle can fulfill most daily driving needs without ever plugging it in. The new take on electric vehicles (EVs) incorporates futuristic, intuitive concepts for drivers to navigate controls while maintaining safe operation using a graphical user interface (GUI). The vehicle also demonstrates how developers, engineers, and designers can deliver a working interface prototype in a critically short timeframe.

Fast-track development

The Aptera team had an ambitious timeline to get their solar EV (sEV) to market with preorders scheduled for less than one year. So, Aptera and Andromeda Interfaces partnered with Crank Software for tight prototyping and development schedules and built a feature-rich automotive human machine interface (HMI). The goal: an impactful, modern user interface (UI), to display the efficiency of the charge, giving users the ability to control their driving habits and maximize range.

“The intent early on was to have a vehicle user interface that’s focused on efficiency, because our vehicle focuses on efficiency,” says Chris Anthony, CEO at Aptera Motors. “Finding a platform with all of the capabilities that we needed to give people access to the energy usage data, how far they can go on that energy, the battery pack, and how much energy they’re producing out of their solar panels was key. Crank seemed like the best fit for developing that platform because they had the necessary tools to give drivers the information that we thought was necessary.”

The team at Crank Software streamlined the process by developing and deploying the GUI through their Storyboard platform, which consolidates all the information from the user interface and makes it easy to change and modify.

The multiplatform software solution is agnostic to the hardware used to implement the graphics, and it provides the toolsets to ease design and implement features into the functionality. Application developers were able to take screen designs and add animations, behavior, and integration with the vehicle’s con-troller area network (CAN) bus, all while testing and validating the hardware. Back-end integration included data items such as wheel speed, vehicle status, and battery management system (BMS) status to provide critical, real- time updates to those on the floor.

“We also worked on some simulation on some navigation components and aspects as an early prototyping phase,” explains Brian Edmond, co-founder and president of Crank Software. “And, we were able to give them feedback from that navigation and how drivers’ decisions in the vehicle really, as far as electrical characteristics are concerned, impact that. It shows standard climate control areas and heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls. Then we moved into integrating those UI pieces with the back-end vehicle system, allowing us to show real-time data, speed, battery data, all the diagnostics information.”

The platform’s parallel workflow enabled the team to import design files, animations, and image assets repeatedly, eliminating the need to serialize the development process which typically causes long delays. Instead, components created in the prototype form transferred seamlessly into the vehicle in a matter of days.

The now developed interface is intuitive and benefits the driver by showcasing efficiency and performance. Data shows how to add range to a trip, how well the operator’s driving, and displays climate control, media displays, and all available navigation tools – accessible information that’s now standard in modern vehicles.

Photo courtesy of Aptera Motors

“It’s important to show that data to the user and demonstrate how their decisions in the vehicle are making an impact, whether you’re using a heated seat, or want to know how the vent fans are running, you can actually impact the distance that you can go in the range of the vehicle,” Edmond adds.

Using the software, the team was able to progress their engineering and focus on getting the design and performance optimization of the HMI. They could make modifications and then undergo tests very quickly.

“The way we work with building the UI is we can simulate it on a desktop environment and do a lot of the UI there, which allows you to get started on the user interface quicker, rather than having to wait for their hardware to be done and all the electrical characteristics and integrating it into a vehicle,” Edmond says. “You can get a jumpstart on the user interface and build that out, even play with it, give feedback, and do some revisions, all while they're building the hardware side of the vehicle.”

Edmond adds that as they move into production, more developments will allow the interface to continue to deliver a feature-rich experience that users will want when they get into their vehicles.

There’s also a BMS that plots information throughout time to show drivers how their driving is affecting the efficiency and range, vehicle use, and charge characteristics.

“It’s really important to put all of this information into the driver’s hands so that they can make the best decisions for the vehicle,” Edmond adds.

Aptera also wanted to give drivers a smartphone-like experience and incorporate gesture controls into the platform so they could easily swipe to select a function on the digital display.

The software incorporated all desired features and was able to meet workflow targets and use iterative design without having to compromise on any of the user interface capabilities. While incorporating these capabilities, the Aptera and Crank teams focused heavily on the large role they believe the UI will continue to play in EVs. It’s all about giving control to the driver and allowing them to make decisions that impact vehicle range and reduce greenhouse gases.

The team now has sights set on full manufacture and is working to further iterate certain areas of design, specifically with voice recognition and gesture controls, and connect back into the CAM data and build it into the fully functioning system for production and test driving.

“Crank has been a great partner to work with, and they’ve really allowed us, a startup with minimal capital, to execute on a very sophisticated user interface platform that can stand with the best of them in the industry,” Anthony says. “The tools have been flexible and we’ve been able to jump from the start with a low budget and create something that’s very conducive to automotive standards.”

Aptera Motors https://www.aptera.us

Crank Software https://www.cranksoftware.com

About the author: Michelle Jacobson is the assistant editor of TeM. She can be reached at 216.393.0323 or mjacobson@gie.net.