According to the company, previous gesture based control systems meant drivers had to take their hands off the steering wheel or their eyes off the road. “With gestures in a clearly defined area on the steering wheel, we can minimise distraction and increase safety. This narrowing down also prevents the driver from starting gesture-based control unintentionally by means of their usual everyday gestures,” said Ralf Lenninger, head of strategy, system development, and innovation in Continental’s Interior division.
The system uses two transparent plastic panels behind the steering wheel, which can be operate by the driver’s thumbs, almost like a touchpad.
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 tapping motion. Touch-free operation is also said to be possible for other functions. For example, if the driver moves their fingers up and down in a uniform movement while keeping their hands on the steering wheel, they can accept or reject calls. The system, which comprises a 3D camera with an integrated 3D image sensor, converts the infrared signal detected by the sensor into a 3D image. This is said to allow hand positions and gestures to be detected with millimetre precision and converted to actions.The system can currently detect four gestures: setting the navigation; browsing through apps and starting music; answering calls; and controlling the on-board computer. Drivers testing the system are said to have welcomed operation with the thumb, as well as the intuitive learnability of the gestures.