Auburn Hills’ Continental Creates Touchpad System for Steering Wheels


A swipe of the thumb or a wave of the hand will allow a driver to accept an incoming phone call or start playing a song with new technology in development at Continental, a global automotive supplier with its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills.

“With gestures in a clearly defined area on the steering wheel, we can minimize distraction which can lead to increased safety,” says Tejas Desai, head of interior electronics solutions in North America for Continental. “This level of precision also prevents the driver from unintentionally starting gesture-based control and making unwanted selections by means of casual gesturing.”

Desai says a sensor is integrated into the instrument cluster, replacing buttons or touch-sensitive surfaces on the steering wheel. The technology uses two transparent plastic panels behind the steering wheel, which the driver can operate with their thumbs, like a touchpad.

He says the sensor detects the motion of the hand and converts it into actions. From there, a driver can navigate through menus by swiping up and down, and then confirm a selection with a brief tap.

“These gestures are intuitive for the driver and are closely based on the familiar operating methods of smartphones and other smart devices,” Desai says. “The transparent gesture panels simplify the communication between driver and vehicle, even for complex applications, so driver distraction is minimized.”

He says the system can detect four different gestures: setting the navigation, browsing through apps and starting music, answering calls, and controlling the on-board computer.

“The development of a holistic human-machine interface is crucial for further strengthening the driver’s confidence in their vehicle,” Desai says. “Building up this confidence, combined with an intuitive dialogue between driver and vehicle is yet another important step on the road to automated driving, one that we are supporting with gesture-based control on the steering wheel.”

Continental is exhibiting its Hands on Wheel Gesture technology at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference today at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.