Acura's Multimedia Concept's Usability Impresses

CARS.COM — With the Precision Cockpit Concept, Acura is playing catch up with its in-cabin technology, an area in which it's been a step slow in its current generation of vehicles. The luxury automaker debuted the concept at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show. The display was just two front seats and a steering wheel from the Acura NSX on the stage with some screens, but even though it may not look like much, don't sell it short. There are some new things in store for Acura that are worth getting excited about.

Related: Acura Precision Concept: First Look

As with all concepts, the Precision Cockpit offers a mix of technology that hints at the distant future alongside some features that are more concrete, which Acura says should arrive within the next few years. Acura first showed the Precision Concept at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit; the Precision Cockpit Concept showcases the technology and design that works hand in hand with the previous concept.

The Precision Cockpit Concept has two screens with 12.3-inch widescreen high-resolution LCD displays, but they show different content to the driver and serve different purposes.

The screen in front of the driver replaces the traditional instrument panel, and Acura used it for demonstrations of how the screen could interact with safety technology and autonomous driving capabilities in the future. Acura believes that people are more likely to trust the safety technology in their vehicles if they can see it in action, said Ross Miller, senior engineer for the Precision Cockpit development.

The demonstrations did just that, augmenting semiautonomous and autonomous self-driving technology by showing the driver what the car is seeing. The system highlights in green cars around it that are moving, or active, while leaving cars that are parked in white. There were also demonstrations of other applications, such as a merge assist function that tracks vehicles already on the highway and shows a space (highlighted in green) when there is enough room to safely merge. There's also a view that shows pedestrians and cyclists, along with their predicted paths, for safer avoidance.

This technology won't be available for years, but Acura says the interface should be available on its vehicles within the next few years.

The second screen in Acura's Precision Cockpit Concept had me much more excited. This screen housed Acura's latest plans for its infotainment and media systems, and this application is much closer to real-world fruition.

With this concept, Acura is trying to solve the inherent problems with multimedia touchscreens such as the driver looking down to use the system or the difficulties of using the screen while in motion (because physics). Acura's solution makes so much sense you wonder why it didn't come about sooner.

The controller in the Precision Cockpit uses what Acura calls "absolute positioning," which aligns the large touchpad with the main display, which is positioned atop the dashboard. Imagine that the screen is replicated on the touchpad and wherever you touch on the pad lines up with a corresponding spot on the screen. Want to activate the function at the top left of the display? Just move your finger to that spot on the touchpad and click down. The other motions are all intuitive — swipe left or right to move across menus or screens, pinch to zoom in on a map or move to the bottom of the screen to access favorites.

The pad has a few different parts. Next to the main touchpad is a thinner touchpad that only accepts up or down inputs and controls the secondary portion of the display. There are also three dedicated buttons above the two touch-sensitive surfaces: back, home and a third button that switches between whatever is on the primary screen and the secondary screen.

What impressed me about the system was how easy it was to pick up: I was flipping through functions and menus quickly without a second thought (or more importantly a second glance) within a couple of minutes. The "absolute positioning" worked — touches on the pad correspond accurately with what's on the screen and menu items are highlighted so you know what your finger is lingering on before you press.

In addition to overhauling its multimedia functions, Acura says safety is a goal of this system. Distracted driving can be minimized if the system can be learned quickly and it doesn't require the driver to look down at a screen.

I'm impressed and excited by the Precision Cockpit Concept. Infotainment is a problem that many automakers are still trying to figure out, and if Acura can execute its vision on a large scale, it may push the company to the head of the pack.