Updated 11/13/2012 05:00 AM
Tech Beat: A touch of smartphone technology transforms the car dashboard
Developers at Texas Instruments are working on a car of the near future that could have a dashboard that largely resembles a giant tablet computer. Technology reporter Adam Balkin filed the following report.
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The day may be coming when the entire center console in a car is one giant touchscreen. Texas Instruments is hoping to make it happen through a digital light processing (DLP) chip.
People might not recognize a DLP chip, but they have probably seen it in action. With up to eight million tiny adjustable mirrors on each chip, they can be found inside the vast majority of digital projectors in movie theaters. Smaller versions are what have started powering many of the new portable projectors hitting shelves.
Developers say the same technology helps turn the dashboard into a touchscreen.
"We're really doing projection from the backside of it and combining it with some infrared and with the IR camera. That's what gives us the touch capability," says Kent Novak of Texas Instruments. "So as you'll see, you'll be able to do one-finger movements, you'll be able to do pinch and expand, basically everything you'd expect to do on a tablet but you can do on this center console."
The touchscreen has knobs that can be placed anywhere that also trigger the infrared. They do not require any wiring and are just there to give the user a tactile feel.
As for concerns the dashboard will be distracting to drivers, developers say it will be able to detect when the driver is using it and automatically adjust to become less distracting.
"You can make this contextually based, so when the car is moving you can build in enough intelligence so it knows if the hand is coming in from the driver's side or if the hand is coming from the passenger side, what to allow based upon safety," says Novak.
Texas Instruments says it expects it will be at least five years before a touchscreen dashboard becomes a possibility.
In the meantime, the company says a closer development could be a projected image on a windshield to help alert the driver at times like when the car starts to drift out of the lane.