Home is where the main menu is

Volkswagen's Silicon Valley boffins have come up with a prototype of what might be the company's next-generation integrated entertainment and information system.

Located far from corporate headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, the engineers at Volkswagen's Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) take advantage of their proximity to high-tech companies, such as Apple, Intel and Google, to develop new infotainment systems and interfaces for VW cars. We got a look at ERL's latest work, a system developed with Intel called the Global Open Research Infotainment Architecture, or GLORIA.

ERL senior engineer Eric Jensen walked us through the latest interface built on GLORIA. The test system he showed us relied on a touchscreen for all input, although a production system might use some hard buttons on the edges of the screen. The system we saw was under heavy development and would probably find its way into a production car in three years, at the earliest.

The home screen for VW's development infotainment system has large buttons for navigation, music and photos. It also has a button for widgets, which would bring up third-party applications loaded on by the owner. At this development stage, the system only had applications for navigation and music, but Jensen explained that it could serve as a platform for third-party developers to build useful widgets in a model similar to how the iPhone and iPod Touch work.

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Home, Jeeves

Unlike standard touchscreen applications, this system allows for multi-touch gesture control, similar to that used on the iPhone. Jensen demonstrated by tracing a lower-case "h" with his fingertip on the display, which caused the system to bring up the home screen. Similarly, tracing an "n" brought up the navigation screen.

In an interesting aside, Jensen pointed out that most automotive interface designers believe that voice command will be the ultimate control method, but until natural language processing advances, touchscreens make the most sense.

Like BMW's new iDrive , the system stores its maps on a hard drive, allowing for greater detail and speed than DVD-based maps.

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Listening to the wireless

ERL engineers made a nice visual design for this radio screen with side-scrolling tuning. Using gesture technology, you can simply trace up or down on the screen to lower or raise the volume.

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Stuck in a queue

This screen shows some of the music browsing and playback functions with the stack of buttons on the left. The system lets you create playlists — called queues here — on the fly.

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