Ruben Archilla is the Group Manager, for R&D, and Advanced Engineering & Program Promotion at Mazda’s North American Operations. Michael Clark recently spoke with Archilla, about connectivity, and the Human-Machine Interface, at the recent Canadian launch for the 2014 Mazda3.

Clark: There’s been a lot of talk about increased connectivity and capability with smartphones within vehicles. How much is too much?

Archilla: That’s a very reasonable concern. What makes sense for a tablet or a smartphone is just fundamentally different from what makes sense in a vehicle. With Mazda Connect, we wanted to be able to deliver more content, while making the system very easy to use, without contributing to driver distraction, and I think we achieved that.

Clark: Many luxury makes use console-mount controllers to access their infotainment systems, with varying degrees of success, and finesse. How is the Mazda3 Commander system different?

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Archilla: It’s a combination of a lot of things, not just the Commander itself, but the graphics you see on the screen. The first thing you notice is that the Commander is quite small. There’s three buttons located ahead of the jog wheel. Each one takes you to a landing point in the system; one to the home screen, one for navigation, and one for audio. The reason we chose three buttons stems from internal testing. Three is the maximum number of switches that can be used, before people start looking down at them. We want Mazda3 drivers to keep their eyes on the road, not their switch gear. The menu structure that the Commander accesses has been designed for the fewest number of steps to find what you want.

Clark: Head-up displays (HUD) are nothing new, though their under-dash architecture has kept them out of smaller vehicles. How did you fit one in the Mazda3?

Archilla: The Active Driving Display is different from traditional head-up displays, in that it doesn’t project the image on the windshield. Instead, the Active Driving Display projects the image on a small pop-up screen, atop the instrument cluster. Because we were able to curve that screen to adjust the focus, what the driver sees is an information display that appears to hover over the hood of the car. The position allows less adjustment of focal length, when you’re moving your eyes from the roadway to the screen. Simply put, your eyes don’t have to work as hard.

Clark: Some HUD screens are over-populated with non-driving information. How is the Active Driving Display different?

Archilla: It’s important for us to figure out what’s appropriate for you to be doing while you’re driving. We didn’t want to put anything on the screen that was distracting or confusing. You won’t see audio information, text, or Tweets. You’ll only see information that relates to the function of driving the car, such as vehicle speed, and turn-by-turn navigation prompts.

Clark: Vehicle connectivity systems are now facing concerns for keeping up with emerging technology, which changes in months, not years. How will Mazda ensure that the systems in cars like the Mazda3 stay current?

Archilla: From a hardware standpoint, we designed the infotainment system to be completely modular. There’s a Connectivity Master Unit. (CMU) Everything else is an ancillary plug-in, such as the infotainment display, and the CD player. This way, we can change the components of the system in the future, as market demands change. An example is the CD player. When CDs are no longer part of the equation, we’ll just unplug them from the mix, instead of re-designing the entire head unit. A side benefit is the ability to put the physical equipment in different locations throughout the vehicle, instead of designing the dashboard around the head unit. The CMU can be easily updated, when the newer, cooler applications arrive.