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Car and Driver: We Swipe Right on Volkswagen’s Production-Bound Gesture-Control Interface

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Volkswagen e-golf Touch concept

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The past few years have seen multiple updates to VW’s in-car infotainment displays, and at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, the automaker debuted still another iteration of its dashboard display. This one has a new menu layout, limited gesture-control capability, and a hyper-quick USB connection for external devices. Unlike many CES debuts, VW’s new system is actually going into production cars soon, so we had to try it for ourselves.

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Fitted to an e-Golf dubbed “e-Golf Touch,” the new system consists of a high-resolution 9.2-inch touchscreen with a built-in infrared sensor. VW’s screen shows a series of large tiles on the main “menu” screen, with the option to select a “home” screen that permanently displays a navigation window on the left side of the screen and two smaller, user-determined tiles to its right. For example, an owner could set one of the smaller tiles to display phone contacts, audio information, or a slideshow of their downloaded images. Interestingly, this home screen lets users manipulate the navigation or two other tiles without bringing up a new menu; i.e., you can swipe right or left through your most recent phone contacts from this main window, or select a new song, too. A small button in the corner of each righthand tile brings users to expanded phone or audio menus.

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Volkswagen e-golf Touch concept

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When your hand comes within one inch of the screen, the lower menu (pause, play, skip song) appears.
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The graphics on the e-Golf Touch concept aren’t final or production-ready, but the interface looks great. There’s a volume knob—yes!—and an “app” screen that’s the system’s window to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. But the system’s real party trick is gesture control, which is enabled via a thin infrared sensor along the bottom edge of the screen. This widget performs two tasks; first, it’s a proximity sensor (which existing VW displays already offer), wherein bringing one’s hand near the screen calls up a floating menu (which disappears when the hand moves away to give the display a cleaner look); second, it recognizes hand movements.

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Unlike BMW’s more complex array of gesture-control inputs, VW keeps things simple. The only recognized gesture input is a left/right swipe across the screen. (BMW’s new 7-series can recognize different hand gestures, such as a twisting motion to increase or decrease audio volume.) For instance, to skip to the next song on a playlist, simply bring your hand near the display—the floating menu will appear—then swipe your hand from the left of the screen to the right. The next song is called up after a brief pause.

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Volkswagen e-golf Touch concept

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VW’s new system allows users to manipulate phone contacts, songs, from a broader home menu.
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The proximity-sensor aspect of the system is slick, too. On the audio screen, for example, you’ll see only album art and title, as well as the song title and the time left on the track. Bring your hand near the screen, and the floating menu with next/previous song and play/pause buttons appears; you can press these buttons or swipe left or right to skip songs. There is no hand gesture for pausing or playing a track. If you’re wondering why the e-Golf Touch concept’s gesture controls feel more limited than those on the Golf R Touch concept that VW showed at last year’s CES, blame the more cost-friendly infrared sensor; the Golf R had a pricier but more capable infrared camera.

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The limited nature of the gesture control interface is either distraction-minimizing or not terribly useful, depending on your point of view. But there’s little doubt it’s cool, and it works. And it’s due out in a few months in actual production Volkswagens. Based on VW’s latest MIB2 infotainment platform, the menu structure, gesture controls, and even a new voice-control element are only a few finishing touches away from reality—and for way less money than a 7-series.
-2016 Consumer Electronics Show

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