Future infotainment systems may read sign language

A new technology is being developed that could let drivers interact with their in-dash systems using finger gestures.

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
2 min read

In an effort to keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, researchers at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence are working on new technology that could let drivers control their vehicles' in-cabin systems with a just a wave of a finger.

Geremin is a multimodal interaction technology that enables drivers to control temperature, volume, and entertainment systems using gestures. As infotainment systems become more complex and cars pull double duty as mobile offices, dashboards and steering wheels will become overloaded with buttons. Finger gestures give drivers a new way to communicate with the vehicle without taking their eyes off the road to search for the right button.

With the driver's hands positioned at the textbook 10 and 2, electromagnetic sensors embedded in the dash read finger gestures based on how they disrupt the electric field. Geremin can distinguish 10 finger gestures, such as up and down movements and traced shapes, such as circles, triangles, or squares. In a sample of six people, Geremin had an accuracy rate of 86 percent, according to an article in MIT Technology Review. The researchers will present the technology and their findings at the International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces next week in Palo Alto, Calif.

Geremin may be positioned as a way to streamline and simplify computer communication and reduce driver distraction, but it isn't without its own challenges. The multimodal system requires drivers to keep their hands at 10 and 2. Will the sensors be able to read the hand gestures on curvy roads? And then there's the not-so-small hurdle of training drivers to communicate using a form of sign language.

But it's not that radical an idea. Motion sensors are already being used by Ford in its new C-Max minivan to allow users to open the liftgate without using their hands. Used in concert with the Intelligent Access key, a sensor is embedded in the rear bumper to detect the shin of person standing behind the vehicle. Another sensor detects the person's foot waving under the bumper, causing the liftgate to automatically open.

The sensors on the C-Max are a convenience feature for drivers struggling to balance grocery bags in one arm while fumbling for keys with another. But it's not too much of a mental leap to imagine such sensors being put inside the vehicle in the future, especially if the technology is introduced slowly. The hardware used in the multimodal system is fairly cheap--about 50 cents per sensor. With driver distraction becoming a greater concern as infotainment systems add more features, a cheap way to keep drivers from looking at the dash could be the wave of the future.

Source: MIT Technology Review via CE Outlook