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Steering Wheel Gesture Control? Call it Hands On Wheel Technology

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A quick swipe with the thumb, a light wave with the hand, and the driver can accept an incoming call, activate the required driving mode, or start their favorite song. Gesture-based control is already known from the world of entertainment electronics and has been making inroads into vehicles for some time now. Further development of this new control system, called Hands on Wheel Gesture technology, in the car is being driven by international technology company Continental.

Continental's Hands On Wheel Gesture Technology demo 1, courtesy of Continental.

This year, at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference held in Detroit on May 11, Continental will unveil an innovation project that, for the first time ever, focuses the detection zone of gestures on the steering wheel. This is possible due to a time-of-flight sensor, which is integrated into the instrument cluster. Using this approach, the solution minimizes driver distraction and further enhances the development of the holistic human-machine interface.

Continental's Hands On Wheel Gesture Technology demo 2, courtesy of Continental.Where previous gesture-based control systems in the area of the center console meant that drivers had to take their hands off the steering wheel or take their eyes off the road, Continental’s innovation brings the controls to your fingertips while your hands remain safely on the steering wheel.

“With gestures in a clearly defined area on the steering wheel, we can minimize distraction which can lead to increased safety. This level of precision also prevents the driver from unintentionally starting gesture-based control and making unwanted selections by means of casual gesturing,” said Tejas Desai, head of Interior Electronics Solutions in North America.

Reduced complexity for diverse applications and optimized system costs

The new Hands on Wheel operating concept integrates seamlessly into the holistic human-machine interface and can replace other elements such as buttons or even touch-sensitive surfaces on the steering wheel. Instead, it uses two transparent plastic panels – without any electronic components – behind the steering wheel, which a driver can operate with their thumbs, almost like a touchpad. As a result, a driver will benefit from intuitive operation, while vehicle manufacturers benefit from optimized system costs for innovative operating concepts. The clear design of the panels is compatible with almost any control geometry and new gestures can be added at any time. In addition, the variable complexity ensures that the system can be integrated in many different vehicle classes and not just in the luxury segments.

Intuitive operation reduces driver distraction 

The time-of-flight sensor detects the motion of the hand and converts it into actions. Hands On Wheel allows the driver to navigate through the menus by swiping up and down, and confirm the selection with a brief tapping motion. Touch-free operation is also possible for other functions. For example, if the driver moves his fingers up and down in a uniform movement while keeping his hands on the steering wheel, he can accept calls or reject them

Continental's Hands On Wheel Gesture Technology demo 3, courtesy of Continental.“These gestures are intuitive for the driver and are closely based on the familiar operating methods of smartphones and other smart devices. The transparent gesture panels simplify the communication between driver and vehicle, even for complex applications, so driver distraction is minimized,” Desai said.

A gesture is typically a movement linked to a specific property. Thanks to the time-of-flight sensor integrated in the instrument cluster, this development from Continental has a high rate of gesture recognition. The sensor comprises a 3D camera system with an integrated 3D image sensor and converts the infrared signal detected by the sensor into a 3D image. Consequently, the hand positions and gestures of the driver are detected with millimeter precision and converted to actions.
The system can currently detect four different gestures: setting the navigation, browsing through apps and starting music, answering calls, and controlling the on-board computer. Initial reactions of test users confirm the selection of these gestures. In particular, they welcomed the proximity to the steering wheel, operation with the thumb, as well as the ease of learning the gestures.

Continental's Hands On Wheel Gesture Technology demo 3, courtesy of Continental.“The development of a holistic human-machine interface is crucial for further strengthening the driver’s confidence in their vehicle. Building up this confidence, combined with an intuitive dialogue between driver and vehicle is yet another important step on the road to automated driving, one that we are supporting with gesture-based control on the steering wheel,” Desai said.

Continental will publically exhibit its Hands on Wheel Gesture technology at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference on Wednesday, May 11, at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Courtesy of Continental


This article is part of “The Feed”, a special AutoTech.Today section featuring automotive technology news directly from their sources.

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