Originally developed to reduce driver distraction, JLR is now focusing on reducing unnecessary surface contact in a post-lockdown world
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Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has partnered with the University of Cambridge to develop a new contactless touchscreen that combines artificial intelligence with eye trackers and gesture sensors to predict which on-screen control you're reaching for.

To be clear, the screen still functions as touchscreen if pressed – it merely adds an invisible layer of mid-air interactivity to reduce distraction in drivers as they work to tap the correct areas of the display while remaining focused on the road.

JLR says the system's artificial intelligence can cleverly determine 'early in the process' which button the driver is aiming for. The gesture tracker can use vision- or radio frequency-based sensors to combine contextual information like user habits and environmental conditions, while the eye tracker infers intent in real time.

A demonstration video (see below) shows the user hovering a finger centimetres away from the display, with the on-screen 'press' executing a moment later.

JLR first hinted at the technology in a demonstration back in 2015, also embedded at the bottom of this story.

Despite this clearly being a long-running project, JLR's Lee Skrypchuk – the company's Human Machine Interface specialist – said the world's current focus on contactless transactions driven by the COVID-19 coronavirus has added new impetus to the technology's development.

“As countries around the world exit lockdown, we notice how many everyday consumer transactions are conducted using touchscreens: railway or cinema tickets, ATMs, airport check-ins and supermarket self-service checkouts, as well as many industrial and manufacturing applications. Predictive touch technology eliminates the need to touch an interactive display and could therefore reduce the risk of spreading bacteria or viruses on surfaces," Skrypchuk said.

“The technology also offers us the chance to make vehicles safer by reducing the cognitive load on drivers and increasing the amount of time they can spend focused on the road ahead. This is a key part of our Destination Zero journey.”

A number of other brands have added gesture awareness to their infotainment systems, such as BMW and Audi, while still more brands have launched displays that will emphasise an on-screen button as the user's finger draws near.

According to JLR, lab tests and on-road trials have shown the predictive system could reduce direct screen interaction and effort by up to 50 per cent.