[Ceatec] Smartphone Operated by Touch Pad on Steering Wheel

Oct 12, 2010
Tadashi Nakamichi, Nikkei Electronics
A smartphone can be operated by using the touch pad on the steering wheel with a thumb. The white box seen in the lower right is a controller.
A smartphone can be operated by using the touch pad on the steering wheel with a thumb. The white box seen in the lower right is a controller.
[Click to enlarge image]
The sensor attached to the ceiling
The sensor attached to the ceiling
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A car navigation device being operated by using a stereo camera
A car navigation device being operated by using a stereo camera
[Click to enlarge image]

Alps Electric Co Ltd exhibited new user interfaces for vehicles at Ceatec Japan 2010, a trade show that took place from Oct 5 to 9, 2010, in Japan.

The user interfaces use a touch pad embedded in a steering wheel and a sensor located above a front seat.

Touch pad on wheel

The touch pad, which can be operated by the thumb, can be used to control a smartphone. The touch panel of the smartphone can be operated by tapping the touch pad on the steering wheel, which is connected to a controller equipped with a wireless LAN interface. And the steering wheel and the smartphone are connected via a wireless LAN.

The controller is also connected to an in-vehicle monitor and a CAN (car area network) so that data sent from the smartphone can be displayed on the monitor and an air conditioner can be controlled by the smartphone.

"We prepared these platforms, expecting free-minded application developers to create software by using them," Alps Electric said.

The company had a demonstration of displaying a list of music files stored in a smartphone on the in-vehicle monitor and selecting a file to play by using the touch pad on the steering wheel. Also, a passenger sitting on a rear seat changed the temperature on an air conditioner by using the smartphone.

Sensor on ceiling

In the demonstration of the sensor attached to the ceiling of a vehicle, Alps Electric used a stereo camera and a human presence sensor. The stereo camera was used to (1) monitor the state of passengers and to (2) operate in-vehicle devices with hand motions.

As for (1), it becomes possible to determine the height of a passenger for sending air from an air conditioner to an appropriate location as well as to change the way in which an airbag deploys depending on how a passenger is sitting.

In regard to (2), Alps Electric had a demonstration of operating a car navigation device. Specifically, when a hand came close to the ceiling, a map displayed on the car navigation device was enlarged. And the map was scrolled by moving a fisted hand.

Furthermore, Alps Electric uses the human presence sensor for preventing car theft. When the sensor detects a person on a front seat, it takes a picture of that person by using the stereo camera.

The module used to set the sensor on the ceiling is equipped with a rear-view monitor looking like a rear-view mirror, a drive recorder and an antenna for various kinds of communication.

Such a structure was invented for using an LCD monitor as a rear-view mirror. It eliminates the need to adjust a rear-view mirror and enables to fix the direction of the camera used for the drive recorder. Because the module is attached to the ceiling, the antenna can be installed on the back side of the module, which is exposed to the outside.