Google has long led the push for autonomous vehicles, but it seems the search company is also interested in how drivers and passengers control their in-car entertainment systems. A new patent application published today reveals a hypothetical system that could track your movements while driving, allowing you to make adjustments to a wide range of controls using gestures. The primary idea behind the patent application is that it can be difficult to find and manipulate physical nobs and dials while driving.
Rather than universal gestures — like a swipe from left to right to change the radio station — the patent application focuses on a system that is contextually aware. For example, you might lower your hand next to the window to open it, and one iteration of the system would be able to determine how far or fast you made the gesture in order to open the window just the right amount. It's not just air gestures, however; one of the claims suggests that you could tap on various parts of the dashboard to change settings. For instance, tapping on the air vents could lower or raise the air conditioning, and covering up the vent with your palm could turn it off. Lastly, gestures could be in relation to the driver's or passenger's body, like bringing your hand up to your ear to raise the volume.
Since this is merely a patent application, the claims themselves could change significantly if it gets approved. And it's important to note that patent applications are very far from a guarantee that any such product will hit the market. But for now, the hypothetical system would use one or more cameras similar to Microsoft's Kinect sensor that can monitor and record three-dimensional space. Alternatively, the application mentions a 3D laser scanner. The computer system would first record the interior of the car with no passengers in it, and it would then be able to sense when the driver performed gestures in certain areas. It's possible that drivers could set up custom gestures as well.
As for practical applications of this technology, the most obvious choice would be a Google-licensed entertainment and control system that car manufacturers could use. However, Google covers its bases by requesting the patent include both traditional and driverless vehicles. Considering rumors that Google is designing its own self-driving car after failing to get other carmakers on board with its autonomous systems — and its recent purchase of a company specializing in gesture controls — it wouldn't be too crazy to imagine the search company's vehicle equipped with such a system.