Mitsubishi Electric Targets Touchless Interfaces
One of the big lessons from the coronavirus pandemic is that touching can be harmful to your health. The less physical contact you have with other people and objects, the better.
With this in mind, Mitsubishi Electric is reimagining vehicle interior systems.
Touchless instrument cluster concept (Image: Mitsubishi Electric)
“We’re looking at how we can apply current and new technologies to high contact areas, such as touchscreens and other control systems,” says Mark Rakoski, vice president of engineering and advanced mobility of Mitsubishi Electric’s Automotive America unit.
Minimizing contact exposures to these systems is becoming increasingly important, he says, whether it’s in a shared vehicle or personal car with multiple occupants.
Several carmakers and suppliers have recently launched or are developing gesture control systems that allow users to interact with digital touchscreens without actually touching them. The only action required is a hand gesture—such as pointing, pinching, twisting or swiping—near the control.
Sounds like the perfect touchless solution, right?
Not exactly. Rakoski says the concept hasn’t lived up to the hype. Consumers have shied away from the technology, he notes, because it’s usually just as easy or easier to actually push or flip a button than it is to simulate the movement.
In some cases, the gestures can be overly complex or require precise movements in order to be recognized.
A more promising alternative: voice commands.
The technology has been around for years, with most new vehicles offering in-vehicle digital assistants and/or integrated smartphone capabilities (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). To date, however, these systems have been very inconsistent with low satisfaction rates among consumers.
But the technology is improving rapidly and, Rakoski says, next-generation systems will be smarter and more proficient.
“Voice recognition is getting much better,” he notes, pointing to advances in artificial intelligence, natural language, noise cancellation and signaling.
Other enhancements could include the ability to respond to compound sentences containing multiple queries, personalized speech-to-text/text-to-speech functions that integrate a user’s own voice into messages, and more specialized and/or multiple digital assistants.
As a result, Rakoski says, drivers and passengers will be able to use voice commands to control a broader range of features with much better results and less aggravation (i.e., not having to repeat instructions, scream commands or give up in frustration).
Mitsubishi Electronics also is working to further improve smartphone integration—for drivers and passengers—into vehicles. “The more people can use their phones, the less they have to touch community contact areas,” Rakoski says.
In conjunction with improved voice systems, Mitsubishi Electric is developing next-generation instrument clusters and infotainment displays, including individual units for rear-seat passengers.
The trend toward larger screens with improved resolutions and advanced graphics will continue. In addition, displays can be quickly reconfigured for optimized viewing—and privacy—for different users, based on their position within a seat.
Mitsubishi Electric plans to unveil concepts for the enhanced voice and other touchless interfaces in the coming months.
Rakoski says the next-generation technologies could appear in production models as soon as 2022.
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