Henry Bzeih, the chief technology strategist for Kia Motors America Inc., patiently guided me through the various controls at the International CES, the consumer electronics show here. They all worked well enough, but I began to wonder about all this technology when we tried out the gesture controls -- using hand motions to, say, turn the stereo volume up.
First, you hold your hand motionless for a couple of seconds in front of the infrared sensor. Then you're ready to make some gestures to adjust the audio system.
To turn up the volume, you rotate your hand clockwise, and you rotate counterclockwise to turn the sound down. Or is it the other way around?
The sound indeed got softer or louder, but it was fairly difficult to adjust precisely. After a while, I began to feel like an also-ran in a game of Simon Says. And I suddenly realized it would have been much, much quicker to reach over and adjust a traditional volume knob.
Bzeih seemed sensitive to my travails. While he's an enthusiastic proponent of voice commands and head-up displays, he appeared to take a wait-and-see approach to gesture controls.
"If it requires your attention -- if it takes up your cognitive capacity -- then it's a distraction," Bzeih said. "We are very mindful of that."
Indeed. Ford Motor Co. found that out the hard way in 2010 when it introduced MyFord Touch, a system that was supposed to replace traditional control knobs with a mix of voice commands, steering wheel controls and a touch-sensitive console screen.
After motorists complained, Ford restored some knobs for audio volume, radio tuning and some other functions.
MyFord Touch did not feature gesture controls, but I suspect that suppliers of the latter technology will encounter similar resistance from consumers.
That is not to say that gesture controls are dead. Audi, for example, has equipped its infotainment system with a touch pad that allows motorists to trace out letters in order to spell destinations for the navigation system.
Likewise, a number of suppliers included gesture controls in their infotainment displays at the CES show.
But if I had to guess, the cockpit of the future will feature a mix of voice commands, head-up displays, console screens and good, old-fashioned analog knobs. I don't think the automotive equivalent of Simon Says will play much of a role.