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This company uses haptics to make electric cars feel like they are lacking

Icon Incar works with several automobile manufacturers, including BMW

Icon Incar / BMW

How do two cars feel different? In an engine there are almost limitless possibilities when it comes to the number and arrangement of cylinders, as well as bore, stroke and firing order as well as turbo and charging. But with electric motors, what they have in common, which sits in a generic skateboard chassis, leaves little room for maneuver.

The power of the engines can of course be regulated and the Porsche Taycan sets itself apart from the catchy majority with a two-speed gearbox. But by and large, and at least for now in these early days of mainstream electrification, electric vehicles tend to feel the same way.

Fear of going unnoticed, automakers try to differentiate themselves in every possible way, and several well-known OEMs turn to Icon Incar, a German company that specializes in the driver’s user experience. After Icon Incar worked for years with BMW on the look and feel of infotainment systems, Icon Incar is now turning to the question of how cars feel.

We’re not talking about leather, metal and lots of recycled fabrics here. This is about haptic technology, in which actuators in the seat, in the steering wheel and at every other point of contact in the vehicle interior give the driver and his passengers a physical, haptic feeling. By partnering with a haptic actuator company called Woojer, Icon Incar wants electric cars to feel the way their manufacturers want them to feel.

“With Woojer we have these actuators,” says Icon Incar managing director Thomas Fellger. “You sit in the seat and become your feedback on how fast you are going. For example, the bass of an exhaust can be generated and transmitted through the seat using the actuators. You sit there and it’s pretty amazing. It’s a pretty cool feeling. “

Fellger is absolutely certain that his company can make electric cars look exactly how the manufacturers want them, and above all without the sensation coming across as a gimmick. In extreme cases, he says, the technology could make a normal electric car feel like a Formula 1 racing driver.

Icon Incar boss Thomas Fellger

Incar symbol

“What I can tell you for sure is the experience of driving a car with this type of technology that really makes you feel like you are driving a Formula 1 car. Because all the senses give you the feedback to drive fast, and it gives you the feeling that that’s good … The seat gives you goose bumps from the rumbling [of the haptic actuators]. So you sit in the seat and have the feeling that you have a V12 behind you, for example, that lives and works. You really get that kind of goosebumps. “

Fellger adds: “I think we are already a good step forward … I think it’s fun. We already have an OEM who has committed to working with us on it. “

But while driving enthusiasts who worry about the soullessness of future electric sports cars could benefit from such haptic magic, Icon Incar also wants to please other customers. Fellger explains: “The new auto community that you are not looking for [a physical driving sensation]… when you talk to my 19 year old son and his friends, they would rather have a bigger battery and play their PC games in the car and the car than Console.”

Tesla understands this too and is equipping its new Model S and X cars with gaming computers that are as powerful as an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 to entertain passengers or to park on a charger.

Fellger explains that younger consumers are not looking for what a car feels like when driving, but what else they can do while it is driving. Can they work or communicate with someone? Can they be entertained and let the car drive for them? Light, sound and haptic technologies will play a role in this future, says Fellger. “Not the next few consumers will buy a Porsche based on their feeling.”

Icon Incar “did some crazy things” with haptic technology, says Fellger. “You can take an electric car today and if you want you can do it like something from StarTrek. You can have sound and lighting and actually one [user experience] it’s like a spaceship. “

But it won’t happen overnight. Fellger says, “Actors become a big part of every experience. Haptic buttons aren’t done well yet; We’re in the first few days of using this kind of stuff … I believe a lot will change in the future and the isolated thinking of OEMs will be broken because the consumer will make it difficult for them. “

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