Gesture-based technologies will help in development of driverless cars

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Sep 15 2012, 07:40am hrs
In an email interaction with Sandeep Kishore, executive vice-president & global head, sales & practice, engineering & R&D services, HCL Tech, FEs Sharad Raghavan learns about new technologies HCL Tech is working on to improve driver safety. Soon, according to Kishore, we could see cars where you could access your infotainment system using just gestures or voice commands, eliminating the need to take your eyes off the road.

According to a US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, 80% of accidents involve at least some form of driver distraction. How can these be minimised

A situation that necessitates the driver to take his eyes off the road while driving can be termed as a distraction. This includes accessing the car infotainment system. One way to minimise these distractions is by providing non-contact interaction between hard controls through the introduction of technology that converts gesture movements into electrical signals. As this does not require the driver to look for buttons, there will be no need to take his eyes off the road. Another solution would be to provide voice-based commands.

Several car makers equip their cars with all the relevant buttons on the steering wheel itself, removing the need for the driver to take his eyes off the road (with a bit of practice, though). How is your system an improvement on that

It is much more robust to use gesture-based systems than to fiddle with mechanical switches. This system reduces the manufacturing cost, as the infra-red sensors are relatively cheaper than the mechanical switches. In addition, the life of IR sensors is more than the mechanical switches. Replacement of impaired IR sensors is also easier.

An argument can be made that it is almost as unsafe for a driver to take his hands off the steering wheel as it is for him to take his eyes off the road. This would mean that your gesture-based system would also be quite unsafe...

This system is to reduce driver distraction. Taking eyes off the road is more dangerous than taking a hand (not both hands) from the wheel. This system allows the driver to keep his eyes on the road. Such technologies might also lead to the development of driverless cars.

You mention voice control, as well. A major problem with voice-activated systems is that the program often has trouble understanding the various accents in India. Also, what about all the traffic noise, wont that affect the accuracy of voice recognition

Already many softwares for Indian-accented voice recognition are available in the market. Also, the vocabulary to be used is small, so its easier for the system to recognise. Moreover, voice recognition systems require a certain period of training before they recognise a particular voice. Once trained, they usually do not have issues recognising the voice. Inside a car with rolled up windows, external traffic noise is very less. So, traffic noises will not affect voice signals much.