Technology is simply getting
better and it’s far more convenient now to drive cars and enjoy some of the
benefits that come along with it. A
quick swipe with the thumb, a light wave with the hand, and the driver can
accept an incoming call, activate the required driving mode or start their favourite
song. Gesture-based control is already known from the world of entertainment
electronics and has been making inroads into vehicles for some time now.
Further development of this new control system in the car is being driven by
Continental. The international technology company has unveiled an innovation
project that, for the first time ever, focuses the detection zone of gestures
on the steering wheel. This is possible due to a time-of-flight sensor, which
is integrated into the instrument cluster. Using this approach, the solution
minimises driver distraction and further enhances the development of the
holistic human-machine interface.
Where previous gesture-based
control systems in the area of the centre console meant that drivers had to
take their hands off the steering wheel or take their eyes off the road, the
field of action in the solution developed by Continental is much more focused. "With
gestures in a clearly defined area on the steering wheel, we can minimize
distraction and increase safety. This narrowing down also prevents the driver
from unintentionally starting gesture-based control by means of their usual
everyday gestures, and thus making unwanted selections," says Ralf
Lenninger, head of Strategy, System Development, and Innovation in
Continental's Interior division.
Reduced complexity for diverse applications and optimised system costs
The new operating concept
integrates seamlessly into the holistic human-machine interface and can replace
other elements such as buttons or even touch-sensitive surfaces on the steering
wheel. Instead, it uses two transparent plastic panels – without any electronic
components – behind the steering wheel, which a driver can operate with his
thumbs, almost like a touchpad.
As a result, a driver will
benefit from intuitive operation, while vehicle manufacturers benefit from
optimised system costs for innovative operating concepts. The clear design of
the panels is compatible with almost any control geometry and new gestures can
be added at any time. In addition, the variable complexity ensures that the
system can be integrated in many different vehicle classes and not just in the
operation reduces driver distraction and increases safety
The time-of-flight sensor
detects the motion of the hand and converts it into actions. The driver can
navigate through the menus by swiping up and down, and confirm the selection
with a brief tapping motion. Touch-free operation is also possible for other
functions. For example, if the driver moves his fingers up and down in a
uniform movement while keeping his hands on the steering wheel, he can accept
calls or reject them. "These gestures are intuitive for the driver and are
very closely based on the familiar operating methods of smartphones and other
smart devices due to the transparent gesture panels. This simplifies the dialog
between driver and vehicle, even for more complex applications, and driver
distraction is minimized as well," adds Lenninger. A gesture is typically
a movement linked to a specific property. Thanks to the time-of-flight sensor
integrated in the instrument cluster, this development from Continental has a
high rate of gesture recognition. The sensor comprises a 3D camera system with
an integrated 3D image sensor and converts the infrared signal detected by the
sensor into a 3D image. Consequently, the hand positions and gestures of the
driver are detected with millimeter precision and converted to actions.
The system can currently
detect four different gestures: setting the navigation, browsing through apps
and starting music, answering calls, and controlling the on-board computer.
Initial reactions of test users confirm the selection of these gestures. In
particular, they welcomed the proximity to the steering wheel, operation with
the thumb, as well as the intuitive learnability of the gestures. "The
development of a holistic human-machine interface is crucial for further
strengthening the driver's confidence in their vehicle. Building up this
confidence, combined with an intuitive dialog between driver and vehicle is yet
another important step on the road to automated driving, one that we are
supporting with gesture-based control on the steering wheel," Ralf
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