Fragrance anyone? Touch-free car controls split world's drivers

Fri Jan 8, 2016 5:11am EST
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By Alexandria Sage

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Germans love the latest wave of touch-free car controls, which respond to the flick of a wrist or the swipe of a hand, as it means no messy fingerprints on their spotless dashboards. Italians, known for an extravagant hand gesture or two, are not so sure.

A simplistic stereotype, but it captures the split among the world's drivers over the newest in-car tech on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Germany's BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote) demonstrated a 7 Series car that recognizes five simple gestures, from a finger twirl to the right to raise the music volume and a hand swipe to decline an incoming call.

Japan's Pioneer (6773.T: Quote) had a minty scent shoot out of a dashboard to revive a driver after a car seat sensor detected a falling heart rate, a possible prelude to nodding off.

"It's certainly weird, certainly odd and certainly unproven. But Pioneer is not off base to connect one sensory organ to others," said Mark Boyadjis, an analyst at consulting firm IHS Automotive.

Given that drivers have enough to do keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, touch-free controls for some non-essential functions makes sense. But it is not clear all drivers want gesture, eye-tracking or even lip-reading technology.

"The jury is out" on how widespread it will become, said Jeffrey Owens, chief technology officer for Delphi Automotive DLPH.N, which made BMW's gesture software.


BMW's Vlatko Kalinic demonstrates a gesture control feature to control the radio volume in a 2016 BMW 750i sedan during the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Marcus