A recent article in EE times asks the question “Is ‘vision’ the next-gen must-have user interface?”  Sure, you can control your device via touch, but what about other inputs such as voice, vision or “mental telepathy”? The article argues that Apple has made great strides for touch, but isn’t bringing new technologies to market that feature other innovative inputs.

The fact is, Apple may or may not be working on integrating vision or other alternate modalities into their products. They keep their cards very close to their chest. “Should” they be working on this type of technology — or embracing it (as IMS Research suggests in the article)? This is an interesting question especially since, though the macro vs. micro gesture and environmental challenges still exist, they are much more solvable now than ten years ago.

The automotive industry has had to be much more open to alternative modalities as these technologies have become key to current and future safety features.  However, the article is a bit unclear about how the $300 million in camera technology is being used in automotive applications. Most, if not all, of that technology is being utilized for environmental data acquisition — not Human-Machine Interfacing.  Back-up cameras or 360 degree image processing for obstacle and pedestrian detection as well as lane detection make up the majority of that “vision” technology.   Automotive companies have employed ultra-sound, Laser, LIDAR and RADAR technologies for allowing the driver to “see” obstacles or other vehicles for nearly a decade.

Turning that same technology toward the interior of the car – where the occupants can actually interface with it – has been tried and tested for quite a while, too.  Where previously “blob” detection and simple geometric analysis was effective for gathering human hand information, cheaper and faster camera devices with higher resolution have improved micro level detection, providing more details and finer resolution to distinguish finger gestures and much more.

Further improvements have addressed adverse lighting conditions which exist when aiming a camera at a driver lit from behind (by the large rear window), as well as excessive sunlight inside a vehicle – which typically rendered IR cameras useless.  Altia has previously done work with customers and Georgia Tech to test gesture as an in-vehicle input modality and it showed some promise. This may certainly be the time to bring this modality into the mainstream.

The bottom line is that there is no single perfect input modality. A product’s success will be the result of successful implementation of a set of interface modalities that provide a complete and fulfilling user experience.