Jaguar Land Rover touchless-touchscreen cuts frustration and COVID-19 spread

Big touchscreens dominate the modern car dashboard, but Jaguar Land Rover has developed a version designed not to be touched. The "predictive touch" display is part road-safety experiment and part recognition of the contagious world we currently live in, with research from project partners at the University of Cambridge suggesting that it could as much as halve "touchscreen interaction effort and time" when behind the wheel.

Touchscreen safety concern for drivers has grown pretty much in tandem with the prevalence – and size – of such screens themselves. Begun as a way to fit more controls into a limited dashboard space, and then accelerated by the Tesla Model S' huge, touch-first interface, we've seen most automakers embrace the idea of virtual buttons you can reach out and tap.

Actually doing that, though, can be less rewarding an experience than designers might intend. Whether it's mistaken button-presses or missing the control altogether because of bumpy roads or finger inaccuracy, often drivers have to take their attention away from the road to make sure they're hitting the right command. That, safety regulators have cautioned, could make for more dangerous driving.

Factor in the recent focus on surface hygiene with the current coronavirus pandemic, and a touchscreen which does better at getting the feature you want activated, preferably without you needing to actually touch it in the first place, seems like a grand idea. Jaguar Land Rover's predictive touch system relies not only on the touchscreen itself, but various sensors and artificial intelligence to try to intuit where a user's finger is headed.

By using vision- and radio frequency-based sensors, along with eye-gaze tracking to see where a user is looking on the display, JLR's system can figure out the intent behind each gesture. Artificial intelligence then predicts which button is the target, and can select it before the fingertip actually grazes the touchscreen.

Obviously, one of the risks of any predictive system is that driver frustration levels will rise if the system gets it wrong too often, and eventually they'll just turn it off and miss out on any potential safety benefits. To make it more accurate, Jaguar Land Rover says, the AI can take into account contextual information to better understand the likely goal. That could include environmental conditions – such as the sort of road or off-road surface the car or SUV is on – together with the user's individual driver profile, and the interface design itself.

What's clever about the technology is that it's primarily software-based. JLR suggests it could be added to existing infotainment systems, just as long as they have a way of supplying the AI with the right sort of sensory data. It's not just appropriate for cars, either, with potential to reduce physical touchscreen interaction on displays at self-checkout lines in grocery stores, kiosks in airports, and on other publicly-trafficked touch displays. No word on when, however, we could expect to see it show up in future models from the brand.