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With CES just over a week away, BMW has given us a taster of what it has in store for the consumer tradeshow: a gesture-controlled interface called AirTouch that lets users control a car’s communication and entertainment functions by simply moving their hands.
BMW unveiled a similar system at CES 2015 that’s currently used in the company’s 7 Series. It allows a user to perform simple tasks such as alter the stereo volume or accept a phone call by waving their finger. AirTouch is an upgraded version of the technology that can pick up three-dimensional hand movements, meaning drivers and passengers can now use their entire hand to make gestures that control the large panorama in-car display.
By using sensors embedded in the car’s dash, AirTouch "allows the display in a vehicle to be operated like a touchscreen without actually having to make contact with the surface.” Once a user highlights something on the screen by moving their hand in mid-air, it can be selected with a physical switch on either the steering wheel or the passenger-side door.
BMW says that the system will be used to handle infotainment tasks such as navigation, entertainment, and communication functions. While having to use a physical button alongside hand gestures may not sound like the easiest task to perform while driving, the company says that the menu system has been designed to reduce the number of steps whenever possible. Selecting the phone function, for example, will automatically bring up contacts or a call list so only one extra action is needed to make a phone call.
AirTouch does sound quite close to a Minority Report-style interface (bar the physical button), although questions may be raised as to how much it will distract drivers who use it. We don’t know how long it’ll be before we see the system appear in BMW’s vehicles, but we’ll get the full lowdown at CES.