Rotary controller to enable complex operations without driver distraction

Rotary controller to enable complex operations without driver distraction

Technology News |
Central, multifunctional touchscreens are increasingly replacing dedicated switches as controls in vehicles. It looks cool and is cheaper to produce - but it creates a lot of distraction while driving. A research association around the Technical University of Cologne is therefore developing an intelligent switching element whose operation should be more intuitive.
By Christoph Hammerschmidt


“With a touchscreen, I have to look to see if it has detected my commands – that distracts me from driving,” explains Professor Matthias Böhmer from the Cologne Institute for Digital Ecosystems at the TH Köln. The aim of the DREA research project is to develop an intelligent rotary controller that is suitable for multifunctional systems. The controller is to be equipped with grip and gesture recognition as well as haptic feedback so that a large number of functions can be controlled with a single hand movement. “Compared to conventional touchscreens, the controller should be more intuitive and largely usable without looking,” says Böhmer. Compared to voice control, a controller can also implement commands more quickly and is robust against ambient noise.

The project partners Brehmer GmbH and Omni Elektronik GmbH are responsible for the hardware. To ensure that the mechatronics and electronics used remain free of wear and tear, the sensors for grip and gesture recognition are to be permanently installed in a fixed base on the dashboard. This base is enclosed in a rotatable plastic shell. When users move the cover, their fingers will be guided past the sensors and detected by them.

In the project, the team from TH Köln is developing software for grip and gesture recognition. Turning with a different number of fingers and so-called turning gestures will control various functions, according to the researchers’ idea. It is conceivable, for example, that two fingers could be used to adjust the volume, three fingers to zoom in on the navigation system and four fingers to regulate the air conditioning. The recognition of special turning gestures should expand the input possibilities. For example, a quick back-and-forth movement could be used to switch from the radio to the navigation system. A haptic feedback, i.e. a vibration, should additionally facilitate intuitive use.

In the first phase of the project, the requirements for such a rotary controller will be determined. In particular, this involves the design of the controller in the human-machine context. In other words, how large must such a controller be so that it can be used with a different number of fingers? How can it be recognised how users reach for the controller? And what should happen if, for example, a turning movement is started with five fingers but ended with four? These and other questions will initially be discussed within the framework of studies.

The development project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.  

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