LAS VEGAS -- Drivers have depended on gestures to maneuver through
traffic since the dawn of the automobile age, from a friendly wave to a
shaking fist -- or worse.
Now, automakers are starting to use
gestures to let drivers control functions of the car, whether it's an
approaching hand to activate a dashboard infotainment system or the kick
of a leg to open a crossover's tailgate.
Not only are the latest
gesture technologies on display this week at the International CES
here, but more will be featured at the North American International
Auto Show in Detroit next week.
Hyundai plans to introduce a
sleek concept car that incorporates "3-D gesture" control so a driver
can operate an audio system with the wave of a hand.
Make it "safe and easy to use," says Mitchell Zarders, a Hyundai senior
engineer, who notes the functionality is still in its infancy. "You are
going to be amazed in a couple years. (Gesture control) isn't going to
resemble anything that you see today."
Like so many promising
technologies, interest in the use of gestures to make things happen
inside and outside cars isn't so much the product of a breakthrough as
it is a confluence of events.
First is safety. Designers are
striving to find ways that drivers can avoid fiddling for buttons,
knobs, switches or icons on an electronic display screen as a car
barrels down the interstate at 70 miles an hour. The use of voice
commands to change radio stations, phone home or search for an address
is becoming common. The ability to wave a hand, rather than having to
glance down at the dashboard, is considered a natural next step in the
war against driver distraction.
Three of four consumers said
safety is the top consideration in buying a car, according to a survey
of 2,100 people released this week by auto parts supplier Johnson
Controls. Safe operation of systems, such as the vehicle infotainment
system, is considered critical.
Consumers have already seen the
potential for motion sensors and gesture control in other aspects of
their lives, whether it's outside floodlights that automatically
illuminate when a critter prowls the backyard at night or playing
group-oriented video games.
From mock bowling to disco dance
contests, millions of players have discovered how video games monitor
and mimic their body motions using systems such as Microsoft's
hands-free, body-sensing Kinect controller for the Xbox 360, Sony
PlayStation Move or Nintendo Wii remotes.
touching the TV, expecting it to move," says Parrish Hanna, global
director of human-machine interface programs for Ford Motor. "Between
consumer electronics and automotive, there is going to be a constant
struggle" for higher levels of technology, including gesture control.
buyers have come to expect the same kind of wizardry in vehicles as
they find in consumer products at home. New cars are being loaded with
sensors and cameras. Using radar, they can parallel park themselves or
hold their place in stop-and-go traffic. Even driverless cars, shown at
the consumer electronics show this week, are on the horizon with the
help of laser-ranging systems.
Here's how gesture technology is showing up in cars.
Drowsy or distracted driver detection.
has mounted an infrared camera to steering columns of 2013 GS and LS
luxury sedans that "maps" driver's faces, searching for signs they're
looking away from the road or falling asleep.
The system works
in conjunction with the car's radar to detect another vehicle or object
ahead that could mean a crash is imminent. Then, the car automatically
brakes and cinches the seat belts to prepare for a collision.
gesture recognition means the system "will activate a tenth or a
hundredth of a second earlier" than radar alone. General Motors and
other automakers are researching similar driver-monitoring systems. "We
are watching the head," not just the eyes, "and checking to see if there
is tilting," to indicate drowsiness, says GM engineer Mike Hichme.
Opening doors or tailgates
dads or shoppers can wave their ankles under the tailgate of a new Ford
Escape or C-Max family hauler to get it to open when their arms are
filled with bags or kids. Sensors underneath the bumper detect the leg
Ford is also looking at the possibility of sun roofs that
can open or close with a hand gesture. It makes more sense than using
voice commands, Ford's Hanna says. "You don't naturally say 'sun roof.'
But you will naturally reach for something," he says.
"If I have
got my hands full and I'm trying to open a door, and I'm leaning into
the door and trying to gesture (for it to open), those type of things
are natural," he says. "We are going to be extremely simple. And if you
have to take your eyes off the road, it's a failure."
Operating infotainment systems
a driver moves his or her right hand within 8 inches of the center
touch-screen of a Cadillac equipped with the CUE infotainment system,
the screen illuminates and displays icons for more features.
for Cadillac User Experience, can be found on the ATS and XTS sedans and
the SRX crossover and will be coming to the rest of the lineup, says
engineer Mike Hichme, who helped develop the Cadillac system.
But systems such as CUE can be controversial. Consumer Reports
blasted CUE in a blog posting two months ago as potentially causing
more driver distraction. Because the screen doesn't brighten until your
hand gets close to the display screen, it might be harder to zero in on
a particular icon from among many.
Asked this week about gesture
technology in a meeting with reporters at the Motor Press Guild in Los
Angeles, David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, says he's aware of Cadillac's system, but hasn't
seen enough yet to weigh in with an opinion. But he says the agency
generally supports new systems that "keep hands on wheel, eyes on road."
that goal in mind, Hyundai demonstrated its "3-D gesture" system, a
version of which will appear on the HCD-14 concept vehicle next week.
system shown at CES allows users to control air conditioning settings
or displays on the instrument clusters with an open palm hovering in the
air. For the air conditioning, a pushing motion takes the driver
through different choices for fan settings, as seen on the console
The HCD-14 will have a more sophisticated setup. It will
work in a similar way, but allow for control of more functions and can
be used in conjunction with a heads-up display so the driver doesn't
have to look down at a dashboard. Settings, as chosen with hand gesture,
appear to float above the dashboard.
The system is "much easier than reaching all the way across, taking your eye off the road," Zarders says.
is often the case, aftermarket auto purveyors have picked up on the
trend and are marketing their own products. Consumer electronics maker
Monster offers its own system to let drivers pick music from their Apple
iPods or iPads, connected by cable in the car, with the wave of a hand.
iMotion CarPlay Direct Connect 3000, which went on sale in May for
about $120, plugs into both the car's power port, formerly called the
cigarette lighter, and the music device. When a driver's hand swipes
from left to right about two inches from the infrared light on the
device, it advances to the next song.
"Let your hands do all the
music finding," says Liz Thomas, a mobile products manager for Monster.
"It's for that distracted driver. ... You don't want to have to pick up
the device and look at it."
As more gesture-based products emerge,
the technology will get even better. Though the systems detect hand
movements now, improved cameras could mean they could even detect
individual fingers, opening the door to more applications, says Benson
Tao, product marketing manager for Vivante, a Silicon Valley firm that's
been talking to automakers about gesture technology applications.
a finger starts moving toward a dashboard, future cars could use
gesture technology to deduce where it's going and try to help the driver
by presenting more a more simplified display based on the expected
action, says Loick Griselain, vice president of driver information
products for Johnson Controls. For instance, if a driver wants reaches
out to turn up the heat in the car's cabin, the electronic button could
be made to suddenly appear larger as the hand approaches, making the
Not only hand and foot movements are being detected,
but a head nod could be used to operate controls in future cars,
Griselain says. With the dip of a noggin, map information or fuel-use
data could be passed back and forth between the screen on the car's
center console to the display screens around the speedometer.
that kind of potential for gesture control, the ideas are flowing: a
seat massage unit that could be activated by a gesture; a virtual
emergency brake for parents who sit nervously in the front passenger
seat, teaching their teens to drive; turning or advancing a DVD playing
on the infotainment system in the back seat.
The potential for
gesture technology in cars is important, says Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, chief
technology officer for Panasonic, a big maker of automotive display
screens. "We have got a lot of people behind it."