Wave a hand, turn on radio or make call; New technology to let gestures control functions of car

Gesture control becomes the latest in-vehicle safety technology.

Ford is looking at the possibility of sun roofs that open or close at a gesture. It makes more sense than voice commands, Ford's Hanna says. "You don't naturally say 'sun roof.' But you will naturally reach for something.

"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."

Infotainment systems. If 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.

CUE, 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 system.

But systems such as CUE can be controversial. Consumer Reports blasted CUE in a blog posting as potentially causing more driver distraction. Because the screen doesn't brighten until your hand gets close, 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."

With that in mind, Hyundai demonstrated its "3-D gesture" system, a version of which will appear on the HCD-14 concept, which is meant to hint at the future design direction for Hyundai's midsize luxury sedan.

The 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 screen.

The HCD-14 will have a more sophisticated setup. It will work in a similar way but allow for control of more functions, and it 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.

As is often the case, aftermarket auto purveyors have their own products. Consumer electronics maker Monster offers its own system to let drivers pick music from Apple iPods or iPads, connected by cable in the car, with a hand wave.

The 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 2 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 appli-cations.

When 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 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 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 task easier.

We Recommend