Automotive

Continental's "infrared curtain" could add multi-touch functionality to cheap cars

Continental's "infrared curtai...
Among other things, infrared curtain technology could be used to mirror smartphone displays
Among other things, infrared curtain technology could be used to mirror smartphone displays
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Among other things, infrared curtain technology could be used to mirror smartphone displays
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Among other things, infrared curtain technology could be used to mirror smartphone displays
A diagram of the infrared curtain system
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A diagram of the infrared curtain system

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.

That frame is built into the outside edges of an LCD screen, which displays the same control features as would be found on a regular capacitive touchscreen.

A diagram of the infrared curtain system
A diagram of the infrared curtain system

When the user reaches through the grid of infrared light beams to touch one of the onscreen controls, their finger blocks some of the beams. Those beams' photodiodes temporarily stop receiving light, and thus cease sending a signal. By analyzing the combination of affected photodiodes, the system can determine the location of the user's finger relative to the controls on the screen, in real time.

Unlike an earlier simpler version of the system, the infrared curtain can also identify multi-touch gestures such as pinching and zooming. Additionally, unlike the case with a traditional touchscreen, it still works if users are wearing regular non-capacitive gloves.

Continental is now working on minimizing how much the frame sticks out relative to the surface of the screen, and expects to have the technology ready for production by 2017.

For an example of a similar system, check out Texas A&M University's experimental ZeroTouch setup.

Source: Continental

4 comments
splatman
Hewlett Packard did this in the 70's in one of the very first touch screen products.
Chris Maresca
I have several industrial PCs from the early 1990's that use the same system, it's really not that novel. They were specifically designed to be used with gloves and in outdoor/harsh environments. If there is anything new here, it's the addition of multi-touch recognition to the software drivers, the hardware has been around for eons. Even then, it's not like there isn't a pile of open source code implementing multi-touch.... God knows why it's going to take them 2 years to get this to market...
jeffrey
The whole idea of touchscreens in a car, where the driver is supposed to keep his eyes on the road is a stupid and dangerous development. The driver should be able to control everything by feel and never have to take his/her eyes from the road. Distracted driving accidents are becoming epidemic and laws should be enacted to stop making menu-based touchscreens accessible to the driver.
esar
Doesn't the leap motion do that already?