Continental aims to replace fiddly steering wheel buttons with gesture controls

Posted on 17 May 2016 by Tim Brown
Stripping away superfluous switches, buttons, touchpads and electronics on the steering wheel could save in manufacturing costs - image courtesy of Continental.

International automotive technology supplier and tire manufacturer, Continental, has this month announced the development of a steering wheel gesture control system that can replace standard buttons.

A quick swipe of the thumb or a quick wave with the hand, and the driver can activate the steering wheel gesture control to accept an incoming call, activate the desired driving mode or start play a song.

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Continental unveiled the new steering wheel motion controls earlier this month and said that its newly developed system would allow a driver to perform more tasks without the need to remove their hand from the steering wheel or look away from the road.

“With gestures in a clearly defined area on the steering wheel, we can minimize distraction and increase safety. This narrowing down also prevents the driver from unintentionally starting gesture-based control by means of their usual everyday gestures, and thus making unwanted selections,” said Ralf Lenninger, head of strategy, system development, and innovation in Continental’s interior division.

According to Continental, gesture-based control on the steering wheel ensures more safety during driving - image courtesy of Continental
According to Continental, gesture-based control on the steering wheel ensures more safety during driving – image courtesy of Continental.

The system can replace elements such as buttons or even touch-sensitive surfaces on the steering wheel.

Two different gesture control operations have been developed by Continental. The first uses two transparent plastic panels that are located behind the steering wheel, which the user can operate with their thumbs. The panels, which don’t feature any electronic components, are used similar to a touchpad or touchscreen to execute demands.

In a statement, Continental said 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 different variations in complexity and number of gesture controls ensures that the system can be integrated into different vehicle classes and not just in the luxury segments.

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The second control is a time-of-flight sensor detects the motionof the hand and converts it into actions.

With a little wave of the hand the driver can accept an incoming call. A wave with the other hand rejects it - image courtesy of Continental.
With a little wave of the hand the driver can accept an incoming call. A wave with the other hand rejects it – image courtesy of Continental.

The driver can 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.

“These gestures are intuitive for the driver and are very closely based on the familiar operating methods of smartphones and other smart devices due to the transparent gesture panels. This simplifies the dialog between driver and vehicle, even for more complex applications, and driver distraction is minimized as well,” said Lenninger.