In all reality, it’s looking like our concept of future cars is getting close to becoming the current offering from some auto manufacturers. Huge steps in the evolution of technology over the last five years has literally changed the game when it comes to driving cars. We don’t really have the flying cars yet, but we’re about a hop, skip, and jump away from having fully autonomous cars. That has been a major topic recently – autonomous cars or cars with autonomous capabilities. In the shadow of all these strides in autonomous technology is the technology we use every day inside our cars, and if BMW’s vision of the future is any indication, that is about to get less “hands-on” too.

In anticipation of the Consumer Electronics Show on January 6th, BMW has released an announcement and teaser image of its newest Vision car that showcases what the interior of a car and the interface with the driver might look like. Some of the details will seem familiar, as BMW already has gesture control in the BMW 7-Series, but the next level of interaction technology is about to unfold before our eyes. BMW calls it AirTouch, and sensors located on the dashboard of the Vision Car will provide the ability of 3D control.

So what does 3D control really mean? That’s a good question. Basically, drivers will be able to interact with the touch screen displays inside the vehicle without actually touching them. It works by recording and recognizing movements made with a flat hand between the center console and rear view mirror. According to BMW’s press release, we will be able to control navigation, communication and entertainment functions by simply moving our hands. In addition to that, the driver also has two dedicated buttons that allow menus and options to be selected without taking eyes off the road. Unfortunately, we can’t see much from the teaser image, outside of two display screens and a partial steering wheel, but if AirTouch works as good as the interior looks, we’re going to see some pretty cool demonstrations at CES.

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Why it matters

I’ll come right out and say it – I am a big fan of technology and what it can do for society as a whole. I think this concept is going to be a cool one, but I’m not sure how far gesture control will really go. As a society, we can be lazy, and using hand gestures isn’t exactly autonomous. Gesture control, as BMW describes it, does sound like a cool stride in technology development, but I think it might be quickly overshadowed by the adaptation and development of artificial intelligence and voice command.

I see voice commands being the primary way of controlling computer systems and technology in the future, with gesture or touch control left for complex tasks. Either way, I really like the look of the dash, center console, and steering wheel we see in the teaser image. It might not be for everybody – those stuck in the past maybe – but it certainly is for me. What is your take on gesture control as BMW will present it next year?

Press Release

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES, 6 to 9 January 2016) in Las Vegas, the BMW Group is presenting a Vision Car to demonstrate what the interior and the user interface of the future might look like. The rapid advance of networking between driver, vehicle and environment is becoming increasingly intensive and is facilitating new services. One example of new technologies in seamlessly networked vehicles is provided by AirTouch. This feature empowers intuitive control of entertainment, navigation and communication functions using simple gestures made with a flat hand. AirTouch allows the display in a vehicle to be operated like a touchscreen without actually having to make contact with the surface. Sensors record the hand movements in the area between the central console and the interior mirror. This enables drivers or passengers to change the focus on the surface of the large panorama display. Simple confirmation selects the relevant menu item or activates an icon.

Sensors on the instrument dashboard permit 3D control.
One year ago, BMW already presented the new gesture control at the CES. This enables simple movements of a finger to carry out actions such as adjusting the loudness or accepting phone calls. Meanwhile, this technology is available as BMW Gesture Control in the new BMW 7 Series. AirTouch is now taking another big leap forward. Sensors are installed in the area of the instrument dashboard which respond to hand movements here and therefore permit three-dimensional control. A movement of the hand or a gesture activates the surfaces on the large panorama display.

AirTouch has another option to confirm an action. A concealed AirTouch button is located on the rim of the steering wheel. It is on the left and easy to reach with the thumb, and it lights up when a menu or icon can be activated. One tap is sufficient to activate the desired program or change a setting. The passenger also has a button like this positioned on the side sill in the door area. Passengers are therefore able to use one hand to navigate through the menu and the other hand to confirm inputs very quickly.

The intelligent AirTouch menu control reduces the number of steps needed to make a selection. For example, when activating the phone pad, the system automatically brings up contacts or call lists to the top select level so that a call can be made with just one further action. AirTouch recognises which selection and control steps are required next and displays them in advance. This allows the driver to focus all their concentration on the road ahead or offers additional convenient control options when the vehicle is travelling in highly automated mode.

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