Audi is showing a new dashboard concept at this year's Consumer Electronics Show that projects three separate displays onto the windshield of a car and accepts hand gestures as commands.
The display is driven by three small DLP (digital-light-processing) projectors that are embedded in the dashboard and throw images upward. Two cameras use image detection and infrared to create a virtual 3D space below the windshield, allowing the system to capture one-handed flicking gestures used to flip through screens or select items.
The platform is experimental, and the German manufacturer has no firm timetable as to when it will be employed. But at this year's CES, there is a strong trend toward hand gestures to replace buttons and controls: Mercedes-Benz is also showing a car concept where drivers can pull up information about surrounding scenery by pointing at it, and a host of TV makers have announced that they will supplement remote controls with user waves and other gestures.
The car mockup used in the demonstration, with three large holes in the dashboard for the projectors, doesn't reflect how a real vehicle with these features would appear, said Lorenz Bohrer, a user-interface researcher at Audi.
"This is not for use on specific cars," Bohrer said. "This allows us to find the real benefits."
The projectors are installed at different angles so that their images can only be seen from certain vantage points. One directly in front of the driver appears to project directly onto the road in front of the vehicle, where it lays down giant arrows and instructions that provide navigation. A more general control and information screen appears in the center of the windshield, while a third screen is in front of the passenger seat and is invisible to the driver, so it can be used to watch videos or other entertainment.
In the Mercedes demonstration, the luxury automaker has a virtual car with a large video screen designed to look like a windshield. It shows a video of a drive through a city, including additional information that could be provided to a driver. Restaurants, hotels, pedestrians and cars that stray too close are marked with icons that are overlaid onto the actual scenery, and the driver can bring up information by gesturing at them. Other gestures allow the driver to make phone calls or bring up emails onto the virtual windshield.