Distance driving can be mind-numbingly boring, but looking away from the road to text or change songs is a life-or-death gamble. Plus, buttons embedded in the wheel only control a fraction of a car's functionality. Now German researchers have a wheel prototype that puts everything within reach — no glancing needed.
"If you have gestures on the steering wheel, you spend more time looking at the street," said Albrecht Schmidt, a computer science professor specializing in human-computer interaction at the University of Stuttgart in Germany who worked on the prototype.
The team, which includes University of Duisburg-Essen researchers TanjaDöring, Dagmar Kern, Max Pfeiffer, and Volker Gruhn, as well as Johannes Schöning of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, came up with the idea for a multi-touch steering wheel interface while thinking about driving and mobile technology.
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Their prototype is made from 11-millimeter-thick clear acrylic ringed in infrared LEDs. An infrared camera attached to the bottom picks up the reflections made when the surface is touched. A driver can control a radio or navigate a map with simple movements along the surface. Those gestures can be made with the thumbs while still gripping the wheel and looking at the road.
"We use a standard tracking framework, very much like Microsoft Surface and those interactive tables," Schmidt said.
To identify intuitive gestures, the researchers conducted a study asking participants what movements they'd make for each of 20 commands. During said that gestures originated from different mobile devices. Participants pinched two fingers together to zoom in on a map and made a triangle for "play." When they couldn't come up with an abstract gesture, they traced the first letter of the word.