Eye-glance technology -- which enables a driver to interact with the center console display simply by looking at it -- is starting to look like the next logical step to simplify cockpit controls.
At next month's International CES, the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, Delphi Automotive will showcase a cockpit equipped with infrared cameras that track the driver's eye and head movements.
If the driver glances at a particular icon on the center console -- say, a music symbol -- the computer highlights that icon. The driver then could activate that function with a hand gesture.
The goal is to offer an intuitive alternative to voice activation -- which frustrates many users -- that would minimize distractions, said Glen De Vos, Delphi's vice president of advanced and product engineering.
Eye-glance technology "doesn't require the driver to actually touch anything," De Vos said. "He doesn't have to spend cognitive energy finding the controls."
While suppliers have demonstrated eye-glance technology for several years, two recent developments have given it new life.
In July, BMW AG launched production of a 7-series sedan with Delphi's infrared sensors. With a few hand gestures, the driver can accept phone calls, change audio volume, browse music selections and adjust the climate control.
"After BMW launched it, there has been a tremendous amount of interest," De Vos said. "Now we're doing some work with other automakers."
The second boost came from the auto industry's push to introduce self-driving vehicles. When vehicles steer, brake and accelerate without the motorist's assistance, the driver must be able to regain control safely.
To handle that transition, automakers plan to mount infrared cameras behind the steering wheel to monitor motorists and alert them, if necessary.
Delphi will launch production of a driver monitoring system in early 2017, De Vos said. A year or two later, Delphi expects to add eye-glance technology. But some observers fear that eye-glance technology will be another distraction for overburdened motorists.
Controls that require eye movements and hand gestures are "still taking too much share of mind," said Chris Schreiner, an analyst for research firm Strategy Analytics. If the motorist is encouraged to gaze at the console to activate a feature, the automaker "is flirting with danger," he added.
Schreiner is not alone, but it appears likely that eye-glance technology will get a tryout. Over the next five years or so, many self-driving vehicles will have infrared sensors to monitor the driver, according to Delphi.
And because in-cabin cameras will be ubiquitous, automakers will find new uses for them. De Vos predicts motorists will control future cockpits with a mix of eye glances, hand gestures, voice commands and traditional knobs.
Said De Vos: "Eye-glance is on the horizon."