The big benefit, says Levin, is that by centralizing controls to operate a variety of vehicle functions, such as navigation or heating, driver distraction is reduced.
BMW of North America LLC (bmwna.com) spokesman Gordon Keil says BMW began studying driver distraction about a decade ago. "Back then, the dashboard was getting pretty cluttered," he says, adding that developing iDrive with Immersion was a way to get in front of the problem. "The sole purpose of iDrive is to eliminate driver distraction," Keil says.
But iDrive has its share of critics. It has been called everything from too complicated to counterintuitive - and a few other words that did not make it by Automotive News editors.
Keil acknowledges the criticism and concedes that "it does require some learning."
Controversy or not, iDrive is here to stay. "BMW is very committed to iDrive," Keil says. "There will likely be a form of iDrive on the (next) 5 series."
That's good news for Immersion, still looking to turn a profit. Immersion of San Jose, Calif., with 130 employees, had a net loss of $16.5 million for 2002 and a net loss of $21.7 million the year before but says its deals with Rolls-Royce and VW will help put it in the black.
"We are in active dialogue with every major and minor automotive manufacturer, and Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers as well," DiNucci says.
"We are the center of gravity with programmable haptics."
National Editor Chaz Osburn can be contacted at [email protected]