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Transportation Input Devices

"Infrared Curtain" Brings Touchscreen Technology To Cheap Cars 123

An anonymous reader writes with news about an affordable way to integrate touch screen technology in any car. "Although touchscreen controls are appearing in the dashboards of an increasing number of vehicles, they're still not something that one generally associates with economy cars. That may be about to change, however, as Continental has announced an "infrared curtain" system that could allow for inexpensive multi-touch functionality in any automobile. The infrared curtain consists of a square frame with a series of LEDs along two adjacent sides, and a series of photodiodes along the other two. Each LED emits a beam of infrared light, which is picked up and converted into an electrical signal by the photodiode located in the corresponding spot on the opposite side of the frame."
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"Infrared Curtain" Brings Touchscreen Technology To Cheap Cars

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  • Old Tech (Score:5, Informative)

    by technical_maven ( 2756487 ) <tom @ t g t .org> on Sunday December 21, 2014 @08:55PM (#48649673)
    This is not exactly new technology. Our 2001 Acura MDX used the exact same method. One problem with it was that it tended to become non responsive when it was hit with sunlight... Other than that it worked well.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Definitely not new. I remember some touch screens in the 1980s which used IR detectors and emitters in an array mounted in front of a monitor.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is not exactly new technology.

      No, no it's not. I remember an old Byte magazine from the late 70's that had an article discussing how to make a touch screen this very same way.

    • Re:Old Tech (Score:5, Informative)

      by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Monday December 22, 2014 @02:23AM (#48650625) Homepage

      Go back to the HP 150 [wikipedia.org] from 1983.

      That PC had a touch screen using the same tech, and it was a bad idea at that time, the idea of touch screens in some solutions haven't become better. It's OK to have a touch screen on a phone or small handheld device, but in a vehicle in motion it's a traffic hazard. On a PC with a mouse and keyboard it's just stupid.

    • This is not exactly new technology.

      Its also not exactly much cheaper than capacitive touch screens, which are pretty much dirt cheap. The 'cheap touch screen' problem has already been solved.

      And if I want really low resolution touch panel, I can still use buttons.

    • used the infrared curtain concept. It was basically a badass intercom, or a closed loop HAM radio that used fiber optics instead of radio depending on how you want to look at it.

      Not super awesome capacitive touchscreen tech - but it's something that will work for gloved or calloused fingers - something touch screens have a problem with. (you have no idea how many bad "drops" I've made on video games because the screen doesn't work on my callouses)

    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

      In fact, I believe this is one of the oldest touchscreen technologies in existence...

    • by nytes ( 231372 )

      Good golly! We were building airline cockpit equipment using this technology back around 1982.

    • by tricorn ( 199664 )

      PLATO Plasma panel terminals (1973 or so) had the same thing. It was only 16x16, and wasn't "multi-touch", but worked well.

      So, basically 40 year old tech.

  • This is So old... (Score:5, Informative)

    by j3p0 ( 16007 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:06PM (#48649723)

    This is so old, I'll bet the patents have expired. I'm sure I saw it close to 20 years ago. The "Anonymous" that suggested it was probably the marketing droid that was responsible for the press release (follow the link) that got some lazy editor to post it on Gizmag.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This was done back in the 80's on a home security/automation system.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/c... [reddit.com]

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:10PM (#48649739) Homepage

    Unlike an earlier simpler version of the system, the infrared curtain can also identify multi-touch gestures such as pinching and zooming.

    I'm sorry, but pinching and zooming on a multi-touch display seems inherently incompatible with operating a motor vehicle. For a car, steering wheel mounted buttons, easily accessible knobs, and maybe voice control.

    Mucking about with a touch screen? Not so much.

    Do the people who make cars not actually keep tabs on things like traffic laws and common sense? Or are they just all trying to monetize your dashboard, and don't care?

    I'm not sure this would legally comply with most hands free laws.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      People want consistent UI. Having to have a muli-touch smartphone GPS and a button and dial tactile GPS in the car seems stupider than you assert touchscreen in a car is.

      I'm sure the manual will indicate that the touchscreen should only be used while parked. But given that I've seen people disappear to reach into the glove box for a CD and fiddle with removing the previous, and change the CD while in heavy traffic, I can't see this being any less safe than we currently allow on the roads. In fact, becaus
      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @11:18PM (#48650205) Journal

        But given that I've seen people disappear to reach into the glove box for a CD and fiddle with removing the previous, and change the CD while in heavy traffic

        Brother, in my day, I could swap out an 8-track with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other while driving a stick shift on the Eisenhower Expressway at 8:45am. On mexican quaaludes.

        Don't look at me like that. I was the designated driver. You should have seen the guys in the back seat.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          I've been in the car when my dad caused a crash when he dropped a cigarette (the tobacco kind, menthol). Just because you managed doesn't mean everyone can. Same thing the anti-gadget people assert when talking about these things. Just because they are unsafe at any speed, they want to ban everything that "could be" a distraction, even if it isn't.
      • People want consistent UI.

        Maybe they do. But what they need is an appropriate one.

        Having to have a muli-touch smartphone GPS and a button and dial tactile GPS in the car seems stupider than you assert touchscreen in a car is.

        It's not stupid because they're used in different situations.

    • Touchscreens are terrible in cars because you have to look at the screen to see where to touch. Knobs, levers, switches, and buttons can be operated by touch while keeping visual focus on the road. It might take a couple weeks to learn a new vehicle but you can learn to operate it by feel.

      • And yet,50k Tesla owners will tell you that u have no clue of what you are saying.
        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          you're not supposed to be fiddling with the touchscreen on tesla while driving...

          • Right. You do NOT fiddle with it while driving. However, the same can be said of regular car buttons. The nice thing about the tesla screen is that you very quickly learn the setting so that you do NOT fiddle anymore than you will with a regular car. [teslamotors.com]
            Fact is, the tesla controls are LESS bothersome to me than the old buttons.
            • Right. You do NOT fiddle with it while driving. However, the same can be said of regular car buttons.

              No, it cannot. Regular buttons stay in the same place all the time, and you can feel for them while not looking at them. You can't feel for touch controls.

              Fact is, the tesla controls are LESS bothersome to me than the old buttons.

              Fact is, that's only true if you take your eyes off the road, and keep them that way until you're done.

          • There is so much screen real-estate, Tesla has eliminated most of the painful nested menus you find on other cars with smaller screens.

            That says it all. The big screen is NOT a distraction since you avoid multiple dialogs that you have to learn with the small screens. Instead, tesla has most controls on the wheel (pretty normal), and then there is a top bar on the screen in which you can move to a couple of different mappings. Issue solved.
            The fact is, that all cars require some amount of learning where buttons are. With Tesla, they are located in 2 easy spots: the wheel and a very large screen.

        • And yet,50k Tesla owners will tell you that u have no clue of what you are saying.

          Since when does having more money than sense make somebody an authority on anything?

    • by gwolf ( 26339 )

      This.

      After posting my post (of course, I got to brag before reading your opinions), I started reading how valued "multitouch" seems to be among /. readers.

      It's, granted, a game-changer that enabled buttonless phones, for better and for worse. But in a car, you want to avoid as hard as you can all kinds of interfaces that require your visual attention. My body knows where most useful buttons in my car are (and in the strange event I need to, say, switch the airflow setting, I know I can do it while at a red

    • I think voice control is the way to go.
    • True. when you are driving you should be actually only driving; even taking your eyes off the road to have a look at the dashboard could be dangerous. Jabbing your fingers at a touch screen while driving is plain stupid.
    • I just bought a brand new top of the line 2014 Mazda CX5 and the touch screen (and GPS) suck shit. Why even bother when my phone does all of it better? Surely the best way forward for car manufacturers is a universal smartphone dock with downloadable car specific apps? Oh and I agree, a touch screen is a bad idea, gimme tactile buttons that I don't need to look at to use, so I can avoid running people over while trying to change the radio station.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:12PM (#48649753)

    If THAT is "too expensive", maybe raise the price of the car by ten bucks or so?

    • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

      Exactly. A lot of facepalm on this.

    • by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Monday December 22, 2014 @12:16AM (#48650337) Homepage

      Keep touchscreens away from cars. Back in the good old days I could reach down and adjust the air temperature with a slider and fan speed with a knob without taking my eyes off the road. Now I have to navigate menus and read text for the same task.

      • Actually I agree. I was so busy fixing a problem that I missed that we're looking for a solution that actually has no underlying problem.

        You're right. I do not WANT touch screens. I want buttons. I want to be able to reach down and count buttons so I could tell without looking which one would turn the AC on or off, which one would adjust temperature or fan.

        Perfect example of looking for a fix for a solution that ignores the actual problem.

  • We Don't Need... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:14PM (#48649765) Journal
    We don't need any more shit in the car to distract us from what we are supposed to be doing, and that is driving.
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      They don't want us driving. Humans suck at it. It's boring and a waste of time. So we don't pay attention, or travel way too fast (or both). We crash at an alarming rate, but don't care because the human brain can't comprehend large or small numbers.
      • by itzly ( 3699663 )
        Then they should offer the autonomous driving option before adding the touchscreen, no ?
        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          Autonomous driving will remain a dream until the government removes liability from the maker. At which time unsafe makers will join in the fray, and the people will presume them unsafe.
    • I agree. I heard a commercial '...so you can enjoy media in excellent quality, while driving'. Really? How insane does this get? Time to go bicycle-only, if half the drivers are watching the latest GoT episode.
  • No thanks (Score:4, Insightful)

    by danomatika ( 1977210 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:18PM (#48649781)

    I'll stick with actual buttons, thank you very much.

  • by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:22PM (#48649805)

    Why the push to have touchscreens in the car in the first place? Use of a touchscreen demands that the driver take their eyes off the road, focus on the touchscreen, touch it in the right spot, and then they can return their attention to the road (hopefully without seeing a gaggle of kids, puppies, nuns, or whatever bouncing off the hood of their car).

    Why don't we just put all of the car controls in an app on a smartphone and be done with it, making sure that the driver never focuses on the road?

    Tactile buttons and knobs are much safer. You can feel for them, identify them by touch, and manipulate them without taking your attention off the road. Good control designs [berkeley.edu] are unambiguous and easy to find and manipulate.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:53PM (#48649929) Homepage Journal

      This. If I had my way, I would ban all touchscreen control systems in cars. They're fundamentally unsafe by design as long as there are humans behind the wheel. If it is unsafe for me to look down at my cell phone and read a text message, it's a hundred times as unsafe for me to look down at my radio, see what channel it is on, scroll through a list of channels, and choose the right one. It is almost as though someone at every auto company simultaneously thought to themselves, "We've been improving the road safety of our cars for three or four decades, and the lower accident rate has meant fewer replacement vehicles. What can we do to cause more car wrecks?"

    • by mlts ( 1038732 )

      Nail, head, hit. My vehicle (which was bought with a non touch screen) has all the basic controls available by buttons or dials. No need to take the eyes of the road to look at the touch screen, punch a tab on it to select the A/C or heat, tap and drag a slider up and down, then hit another tab to control fan speed. Of course, with how UIs are, there will be lag where you can't tell the device noticed your tap or not. At least with a dial, you know that it registered it due to tactile clicks.

      My biggest

    • by bosef1 ( 208943 )

      Aside from complete marketing "cool" factor, my guess would be that it a cheap touchscreen is (now) cheaper than all of discrete control knobs. You only need one cutout in the center console, and you don't need all the extra wires and switches and things. Also, it is easier to configure different virtual controls on the one touchscreen system for all the different vehicles, trim lines and vehicle configurations you make. The touchscreen may even be a little more reliable than the physical controls, assu

  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @09:24PM (#48649811)

    Shifters, signals, lights, wipers, gas, break, hazards, fogs, steering..etc are designed to be manipulated by tactile feedback alone. Likewise my audio system was selected for its ability to be fully controllable via tactile feedback.

    Driving is not a "game" .. touch interfaces have no place in a vehicle.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      Exactly right, tactile feedback and muscle memory. So you don't have to look.

      Context-sensitive menus (so you have to look) is a fundamentally bad idea in this situation. Unfortunately, chasing fads over functionality plagues nearly all industries, not just automotive.
    • Amen: You want controls you identify by touch to do common things so your eyes do NOT leave the road.

    • I recently test drove a Chevy Volt. I was very excited about this car and its technology. But then I tried to turn on the climate control. Way too much touch screen interaction is required to do anything. If not for the touch screen, I might have bought the car, but now I won't even consider it.

      • I recently test drove a Chevy Volt. I was very excited about this car and its technology. But then I tried to turn on the climate control. Way too much touch screen interaction is required to do anything. If not for the touch screen, I might have bought the car, but now I won't even consider it.

        I recently bought a Chevy Volt, and agree 100%. The climate control stuff is nearly all on the touchscreen. Instead of turning a knob or moving a lever, I have to hit a button to bring up the climate control screen, then find and touch the desired spot on the screen. The same goes for radio and other miscellaneous controls - I have to hit a button, then muck around with different points on the screen.

        To make things even worse, the "physical" buttons on the console aren't actually buttons, but touch-sensi

      • by n7ytd ( 230708 )

        I recently test drove a Chevy Volt. I was very excited about this car and its technology. But then I tried to turn on the climate control. Way too much touch screen interaction is required to do anything. If not for the touch screen, I might have bought the car, but now I won't even consider it.

        I had the exact same reaction to the 2009 Prius that I test drove a couple of years ago. If I have to look down to find a button to change the fan speed on the A/C, Toyota has failed on it's UX.

  • It ca be made pretty high. A wall of LEDs and photodiodes form the basic scanning unit in a flatbed scanner. They easily go 600 dots per inch or even 1200 dots per inch. So the resolution can be high. But, on the other hand, the distance between the source and the detector seems to be rather large and if the laser beams have to be collimated optically it could be come expensive. It is a nice technology.
    • The oldest tech like this had straight beams and receptors on the other side and was totally digital, but now they can read reflections, so in theory they can have resolution higher than the resolution of the scanning grid.

  • Stop this! (Score:2, Redundant)

    by GrahamCox ( 741991 )
    Touchscreens are the worst interface for cars. Stop this madness just because it's fashionable. Switches in cars should be identifiable by feel and position, and give a non-visual feedback (i.e. tactile) when operated. Touchscreens do none of that.
  • First of all, touchscreen is a horrible interface in a car. But leaving that aside, capacitive touch screens are dirt cheap. You can get replacement units (glass and touch sensors) for Chinese Android phones for a few bucks on Alibaba. So there's utterly no reason to prefer an inferior technology for the sake of price.
  • So they are replacing easily identified and robust mechanical controls with a touchscreen technology that has been falling by the wayside because it is unreliable?

    Who wants to bet this is actually a case of some manufacturer having old inventory or excess capacity they need to justify and made some kind of deal to offload these terrible devices by using them in cheap cars.

    Next, in 2018 or so, mechanical controls will be the "in" thing only found on nicer cars...
  • by gwolf ( 26339 ) <gwolf AT gwolf DOT org> on Sunday December 21, 2014 @10:34PM (#48650059) Homepage

    This sounds exactly like the tech used by Hewlett Packard in the mid-1980s (here in Mexico, maybe it was known earlier elsewhere) for their HP110 and HP150 lines. The HP110 had (25x80? Probably...) holes on the screen edge, with a LED and a receiver at the opposite ends. IIRC, for the HP150 the "magic" was that the screen borders were now smooth, because the LEDs were higher power, and infrared instead of visible-spectrum.

    I never used those machines; I remember seeing them and drooling at the finger-detecting magic :-) But thirty years later, it's hardly a new technological development.

    • We had an HP150 during the 1980s. It ran MS-DOS 2.11, with an Intel 8088, but was not IBM PC compatible. The touch screen worked quite well, and substituted for a mouse (which the system didn't have - at least, ours didn't). However, since the infrared beams were in front of the screen, it was possible to 'touch' the screen without actually making contact. The actual contact point was a few millimetres off the surface of the screen, but varied in height due to the curve of the CRT. The mechanism was good
  • by kriston ( 7886 ) on Sunday December 21, 2014 @11:19PM (#48650211) Homepage Journal

    The original Amazon Kindle Touch and the Nook Simple Touch have used this technology for years. It's a very, very old technology. There's nothing really special about this except that it's being applied to automobiles.

    • The original Amazon Kindle Touch and the Nook Simple Touch have used this technology for years.

      Who told you that? The Nook Simple Touch has a two-point capacitive multitouch display. I've got one right here.

      • by Scoth ( 879800 )

        The Nook Simple Touch uses zForce Infrared, which is pretty much which this describes. Reviews [cnet.com] at the time mentioned it, which links to here [cnet.com] to describe it. I have NST too and it works fairly well, most of the time.

      • by kriston ( 7886 )

        Who told you that? The Nook Simple Touch has a two-point capacitive multitouch display. I've got one right here.

        Sorry, you're not correct. See the other poster's response.

  • I remember "infrared curtain" on old green screen monitors.
  • The last thing I want is touch screens in my car. I want tactile controls. What the fuck is so terrible about a few knobs and sliders? At least I don't have to look at them while I'm driving.

    • They are not made by 'Apple'. (I totally agree with you, by the way)
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Most people are too stupid to use them. There is a reason that US market cars are dumbed down compared to Japan Market and Europe Market.

  • I've recently been moving around quite a bit, and have rented a few cars. As I've been putting rental orders in at short notice I've had the opportunity to drive a few cars that are usually out of my budget range, higher end Mazda, Ford, BMW and Mercedes. I can say without a doubt that the touchscreen controls in all of these cars are terrible, and actually ruin the experience of driving them. If you are unfamiliar with it then forget making any kind of adjustment while driving.

    The car I had in the US, a Do

    • Have you also suffered from this strange rotating knob on the place where the hand brake/gear shifter is usually located?
      • by jemmyw ( 624065 )

        Yes indeed, screen controls for the merc. Not much better than a touchscreen in my opinion. The problem is not so much the screen, but that you have to navigate through multiple levels of menu to get anywhere.

        The most frustrating issue I had with all these different cars was getting a manual BMW into reverse. No indication of how to do it on the gearstick, so I had to get the manual out. It turned out it was just so stiff that you couldn't tell you were going in the right direction, I had to use both hands

        • Really? Amazing. Full of electronic nonsense, and the gear shift messed up. Totally love this review, which grabs the essence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
          • by jemmyw ( 624065 )

            Yes, that does sum it up. Lovely cars to drive when you can just let loose. But day to day, aggravating.

            I've seen the same issue with the satnav in my Aunt's Land Rover - we could not switch it off, 5 of us had a turn.

  • By all that is good, I hope my future cars will not suffer from silly additions such as touch screens.
  • What's wrong with regular push buttons and dials?

    Don't fix it if it isn't broken!
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

    Standard resistive Touchscreen tech is dirt freaking cheap. I can get 7" resistive types for $9.00 each all day long at single quantities. If I was a car maker I could get them at less than $1.00 each in 1000+ quantities.

    Honestly this IR system is a rehash of really old tech that is just not needed.

    What is needed is the important buttons existing as REAL HARD BUTTONS. the systems that are 100% touch are complete crap. Yes I do want my hard buttons back on android, the on screen home button is really 10

    • by n7ytd ( 230708 )

      Standard resistive Touchscreen tech is dirt freaking cheap. I can get 7" resistive types for $9.00 each all day long at single quantities. If I was a car maker I could get them at less than $1.00 each in 1000+ quantities.

      Honestly this IR system is a rehash of really old tech that is just not needed.

      What is needed is the important buttons existing as REAL HARD BUTTONS. the systems that are 100% touch are complete crap. Yes I do want my hard buttons back on android, the on screen home button is really 100% crap.

      Resistive touchscreens also don't care if the user is wearing gloves, which would be a plus for automotive use. But, they are not as durable as capacitive, which I would argue is a reason to not use them in a car.

      But IR systems are also not a good choice because the sensors can be swamped by sunlight.

      IR systems still find uses in industrial settings because they can be completely sealed, respond to gloved fingers, and have no flexible/moving parts like a resistive screen, but IR is hardly the new, groundbr

  • I'd be willing to pay more money for a car without touchscreens. I want to be able to operate the controls by feel, without taking my eyes off the road. Besides that, any significant electronic system in a car will quickly become outdated. If the technology is that important to the driving experience, I'll get a mount for my cell phone.

  • Continental finding innovative ways of bringing 1970s technology to customers today!
  • They still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

    Also, there is no touching involved in this technology.

    It does not work well if your fingers are transparent either

  •   has been around about the same amount of time,

    - it does not suffer from the curse of spilled milkshakes or other liquids, as led's do
    - it does not suffer from IR light from the sun coming in through the windows
    - it is cheap
    - it does not suffer from flexing or bending like a plastic bezel
    - it is also now known as a touch switch, and there is an off the shelf IC to make it work, and it is cheap

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