Continental's solution puts the gesture-detection zone on the steering wheel. This works with the help of a so-called "time-of-flight sensor" that is integrated into the instrument cluster.
The future of in-car switches and buttons looks even more uncertain as the move to offer gesture-based controls accelerates. Continental has developed a solution that puts the detection zone for gestures on the steering wheel instead of the center console.
That is where it is located on the new-generation BMW 7 series that debuted last year with a solution from Delphi that reads hand movements using sensors integrated in the roof module.
Continental believes its solution is an improvement because the driver's gestures can be interpreted without requiring him to take a hand off the wheel, which minimizes distractions and increases safety.
The new system can detect four different gestures: setting the navigation, browsing through apps and starting music, answering calls and controlling the on-board computer.
"These gestures are intuitive for the driver and are very closely based on the familiar operating methods of smartphones and other smart devices," Ralf Lenninger, who is head of strategy, system development and innovation at Continental's interior division, said in a statement.
Continental believes the solution will let automakers to replace many of the controls that have made the modern day steering wheel look like something that belongs in a spaceship.
Two transparent plastic panels -- without any electronic components -- located behind the steering wheel can read gestures that are primarily communicated via the driver’s thumb using motions typically for controlling a touchpad. Click here to see it in action.
In addition, the driver can get music to start playing with a double-tap motion of the thumb. Click here to see.
Continental said the system can be integrated in many different vehicle classes, not just premium models, and that new gestures can be added at any time.
The German supplier has no orders for the system, which is brand new. There is nothing on the market yet that reads gestures from the area in front of the steering wheel, a Continental spokeswoman said.