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Old 06-10-2011, 08:48 PM
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Information Dashboards tap into iPhone style



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Volvo's Concept You only has one permanent button.

Car makers gear up to give buttons the flick.
Dashboard buttons could be a thing of the past within a few years as car makers look at using futuristic control systems that rely on voices, a wave of the hand or even a glance of the eye.
At last month's Frankfurt motor show, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo each revealed a futuristic concept car that uses hand gestures from occupants to adjust car functions.
In the Mercedes F125, providing a glimpse of the limousine of 2025, the @yourCOMAND cloud computer control system is always connected to the internet, giving access to web information and entertainment, including photo albums and music libraries housed on servers. A 17-inch display for the front passenger can be controlled simply by gestures.
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Similarly, Volvo says the interior of the Concept You is so functional and intuitive the owner could throw away the manual. Instead of buttons, it has smartpad touchscreens, gesture-driven controls and a clever centre screen that remains asleep until an infrared camera ''notices when the driver looks at it''.
The Concept You has only one permanent button - the volume knob for the sound system. Everything else is controlled via the tablet-style screen.
The gesture-driven technology is already being produced by suppliers and for some consumer electronics and Volvo chief designer Peter Horbury says it will arrive in a production car ''very soon'', possibly within a couple of years.
''The car can sense when your hand moves towards a control surface and it can also spot when you look at it,'' he says.
''So at night you don't have to have the glare from the screen when you're concentrating on the road ahead but when you look at the screen there's a camera which sensors the movement of your eyes towards it and the screen lights up when you look at it.''
He says consumers are ready for a radical change in car cabins.
''Many think [buttons] can go,'' says Horbury, who admits they will have to be phased out, while ensuring often-used functions such as ventilation controls are easily accessible.
''It'll be a short period of time when there will be a little nervousness about getting rid of all the buttons.''
He says the functionality will be crucial to the acceptance - or otherwise - of such systems.
''There's still a desire for some of the controls to give instant access. You don't want to go through lots of menus.''
Horbury says smartphones such as the iPhone have helped pave the way for more adventurous control systems, something he says drivers - and passengers - are ready for.
''In the future, the more that this technology [smartphone and other electronics] becomes popular, the more people will know what to do the minute they use it.''
Horbury says consumer items such as smartphones have helped acclimatise people to new operating systems.
''If you can use an iPhone, you can use this,'' he says.
His comments back up those made recently to Drive by Ford global design director J. Mays, who says more advanced voice-activation systems will increasingly reduce the need for buttons in cars.
''At the moment, we've got a 'human machine interface' in the middle, which is a touchscreen, but we're realising as we want to upgrade functionality very quickly that that's not going to be around that long,'' he says.
''We've already got a Focus that understands 1200 different [voice] commands, so we think, 'What's it going to be in another year?'
''Well, it's going to be a lot more than that we're not far away from having really understandable voice-activated technology.''
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