Smart control systems for cars
Las Vegas - Carmakers are working on entirely new control systems for the cars of the future that will work like smartphones or tablet computers.
Some of the designs were on show at the recent Detroit Motor Show and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Conventional knobs, levers and switches might soon be a thing of the past and even the touch-sensitive screens found in the dashboards of many cars of today will be replaced as carmakers rapidly try to find clever solutions to the array of operating systems.
"With such a lot of data coming to the driver today and so many new possibilities, the conventional operating systems are not enough," said Mercedes researcher Bharat Balasubramanian.
Like a smartphone or tablet PC the simple movement of a hand or finger would be enough to activate a function.
"Cameras and infra-red sensors recognise the movement of the hand and measure the distance with the electronics, thus understanding every movement pattern and command," according to Audi developer Werner Hamberger.
Audi showcased at the Las Vegas event a cockpit fitted with three head-up displays that project important information onto the windscreen. The image to the left can only be seen by the driver while the image to the right can only be seen by the passenger. The central image can be seen by both.
It works something like this: The central image shows up several menus from which the driver and passenger can choose. The passenger can for instance choose a short film about a hotel or museum.
Should the driver be convinced by the passenger that it is the right destination, a simple wink to the left can be chosen to enter the destination into the GPS system.
Similar steps are being taken by Mercedes with its Dice system. A white dice shows the vision of a car interior for the future with a steering wheel but a complete absence of levers and switches. Simple gestures suffice to scroll through a menu and to choose sub-menus for certain operations.
According to designer Hartmut Sinkwitz, the entire windscreen more or less functions as a computer screen. Simply by pointing a finger music can be downloaded into the car from a disco nearby. The GPS system pinpoints places of friends, and hotels or cinema tickets can be bought while driving past.
These systems are not simply dreams. In Detroit the Cadillac ATS featured a newly developed CUE system that works with only four switches compared to some 20 for a normal car radio.
The next-generation Ford Mondeo, called the Fusion in the US, has a system developed jointly with Microsoft. The Sync-System works in conjunction with speech-recognition that can also be used for external gadgets like a mobile phone. The new Dodge Dart has a touch screen almost as large as a tablet PC.
According to Audi's Hamberger, we are still some years away from a head-up display that can be operated by hand movements.
However, a new touch wheel system for the GPS will be in the new Audi A3. A destination can be chosen with the tip of the finger, making cumbersome scrolling through the alphabet obsolete.