Gestures have been an integral part of human interaction since old times. Most gestures originate from either face or hand, but they can actually be done by any part of the body. Automobile drivers have depended on gestures to maneuver through traffic previously – from waving hands during turns to shaking fists after overtaking.
New technology is enabling automobile manufacturers to integrate gesture recognition features in their cars to let drivers manage the control systems of the car. For example, an approaching hand can activate the in-car infotainment system, or tilting your head can switch on the turning indicator.
Driver distraction is a major cause of concern for maintaining safety on the road. Taking your hands off the steering wheel and eyes off the road to adjust air conditioning or making a call can have dire consequences. Gesture based car controlling systems would enable drivers to do all that and even more without even looking at the dashboard.
Hyundai will be incorporating a “3-D gesture” control system in their top-end cars that will let a driver to control the audio system with just a wave of the hand.
However, the technology is still in its infancy today. The rapid pace of innovation and its ease of use will shift the buyers towards favoring a car with gesture recognition system in the future.
After the proliferation of in-car infotainment systems, it became quite hard for the drivers to fiddle with buttons, switches, knobs and touchscreens on their electronic systems while driving a car on highways.
Speech recognition technology, akin to the one used in computers and smartphones, allows the use of voice commands to control radio and other car control systems. However, it is very limited in its scope and is still very distracting to the driver.
Naturally, the next evolutionary step would be moving towards gesture recognition technology to avoid any further distractions.
According to a survey of 2,100 people conducted by Johnson Controls, an auto parts supplier, safety is the top most consideration while buying a car for most consumers. 75% of those who were surveyed preferred a car with safe control systems than one without.
Gesture and motion controls are not a new phenomenon. Consumers have tasted it in other aspects of their lives, whether it is motion-activated burglary systems or playing games on their favourite video gaming console such as Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360.
Microsoft’s Kinect is particularly interesting in this case as it allows the use of human body movements to control the dashboard menu or act as a controller while playing games.
As these technologies enter mainstream usage in homes, car buyers expect them to be present in their vehicles too; it is a normal behavior. The latest cars are being fitted with a multitude of cameras and sensors. New radar and laser-ranging systems will allow drivers to parallel park with ease or hold their place steadily in a stop-and-go traffic situation.
Here are a few examples in how this technology is being utilized:
Detecting Driver’s Drowsiness or Distraction
An infrared camera is mounted on the steering wheels of every 2013 GS and LS luxury sedans from Lexus. The camera maps the human face to detect whether the driver is drowsing off to sleep or watching away from the road.
In conjunction with a radar system, this technology will enable the car to deploy safety airbags quicker in case it detects an imminent collusion. It could also be made to apply brakes or alert the driver through speakers or vibration.
Opening Car Doors and Tailgates
Opening doors and tailgates can be achieved by waving the ankles below the respective doors. It makes it very easy to open the doors when your hands are occupied carrying a heavy bag or a basket. Ford Escape is one of the cars to employ this system.
Another usage of this system involves the opening and closing of sun roof by just reaching a hand towards it. It makes more sense than using voice recognition as it comes naturally.
Controlling In-Car Infotainment Systems
This is one the most sought after feature by car buyers. Approaching you hand a few inches towards the infotainment system will activate its screen and present you with a bunch of relevant icons. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system is one of the few in-car systems to employ this feature.
It is a very practical and safe solution as you don’t have to take your eyes of the road. However, tactile feedback is missing in these systems. This is where gesture recognition could work in speech recognition technology to make the user experience even better.
As the technology concerning gesture-based and speech-based control systems improves, more features could be added to the car. Not only could hand and leg movements be detected, but a slight head movement could also be mapped to perform a certain function. The potential for gesture technology is immense and it will only improve as we move into the future.