As pretty and colorful as they look on auto show floors, automotive touchscreens can be less than ideal when driving, often pulling the driver's eyes off the road and serving as a full-on distraction. At CES 2018, Continental is showing a 3D automotive touchscreen that could solve those issues by using raised elements to better enable the user to find specific selections without having to glance over. The award-winning display looks like it could be the best of both worlds – cutting edge digital graphics and informational organization with an old-school tactile feel.

Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I've never really liked touchscreen-based infotainment systems. The menus are functional enough while sitting still in a parking lot, but the flat, dull surface is not particularly user-friendly when driving. At least once or twice every ride I find myself wondering why automakers seem obsessed with the wholesale elimination of simple, functional physical controls and the addition of more complicated, less functional digital screens. Give me a set of knurled dials and push buttons any day.

Unfortunately for me and those who might agree, interior digitization seems much like vehicle electrification and automation – a powerful, inevitable market force that will soon swallow up every vehicle on the road. Hopefully, though, companies will do more than just overpower the senses with bigger, bolder digital display systems. Hopefully, they'll start creating systems that are more intuitive to use during driving – still the reason you're in the car to begin with.

Continental's 3D Touch Surface Display seems like a very promising evolution of the infotainment touchscreen. In place of the flat, smooth surface of the average touchscreen, this display has raised borders and bumps designed to make it easier to find and select specific functions. Haptic feedback works with the 3D surface in creating an intuitive tactile experience.

"Our latest display solution combines three elements: design, safety and user experience" explains Dr. Frank Rabe, head of Continental's instrumentation and driver HMI unit. "The 3D surface not only allows for exciting design, but it also ensures that drivers can operate the various functions without having to take their eyes off the road."

On the touch display featured in Continental's materials, three-dimensionally defined borders work as sliders for adjusting common settings like audio volume and temperature. The dedicated sliders are available without having to switch through menus, thereby replicating the simple grab-and-adjust nature of a traditional volume knob or climate dial.

Moving to the center of the display, virtual buttons provide quick access to a range of menu-based settings. A combination of physical protrusions and haptic feedback gives these buttons definition, helping the driver find exactly what he or she needs via simple touch. The screen also measures touch force to prevent the driver from accidentally selecting a function – the system is designed to react only when the driver purposefully presses a button.

The plastic display surface can be customized for individual automakers, allowing the creation of make/model-specific 3D infotainment displays. The topographical buttons can be designed around displays of any shape or size.

One day, drivers will be mere passengers of fully autonomous cars, and they'll be free to focus all their attention on digital displays and other distractions. In the meantime, this 3D touch technology seems like a promising form of user interface for a safer, more seamless driving experience. We'd have to give it a test to verify that it works well on the road, but it definitely looks like a smarter form of touchscreen-based control.

The 3D Touch Surface Display is on show at CES 2018, where it's been named a Best of Innovation Award Honoree.

Source: Continental

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