Land Rover developing sight-activated controls for future vehicles

News: British car brand Jaguar Land Rover is working with researchers at MIT to develop technology for its vehicles, including controls operated by tracking where the driver is looking (+ slideshow).

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car
Land Rover's Discovery Vision Concept car launched in the UK this month

Jaguar Land Rover senior researcher Dai Jones revealed that the company is investing $5.6 billion (£3.3 billion) in research and development over the next few years, and is working with engineers at institutions like MIT to advance features and make them commercially viable.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car
Land Rover's Discovery Vision Concept car replaces a number of the functions usually found in the dashboard with "gesture control"

He believes the eye-tracking technology that his team is developing, which enables drivers to activate controls when they look at them, would be an effective solution to clearing car interiors and dashboards of buttons.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car
Land Rover's Discovery Vision Concept car interior

"We think that eye tracking has a lot of potential," he said. "We talk about a clean interior, but where's my heated seat button? What about the ability that if I look down at the [temperature] control area, or at the navigation system, it would come alive."

"Whenever I look at that screen it could come on, then when I look away it disappears."

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

Jones revealed the ideas during the UK launch of the Discovery Vision Concept car (pictured), which has a curvier shape than is normally associated with Land Rover's designs. Features include cameras underneath the car that capture images of the ground, which are then projected onto the windscreen to make the bonnet appear "invisible" to the driver.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

The vehicle also integrates gesture-control technology, which employs hand movements to activate functions or components.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

This is used to open the doors, turn on headlights and indicators, and open windows and sun roof – removing many of the handles and buttons found on current car models.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

However, Jones is unsure about how useful these features are for drivers. "I'm not convinced by gesture," he said. "My jury is out on it. If I move towards a screen and it comes on and off, it's fraught with failure."

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

For example, the hand motion to open and close a window could unintentionally be triggered by someone waving. "Just press a button, it's really easy," he said.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

Jones is confident that gesture-control technology could be effective for actions that can't be mistaken for others, such as an overhead hand swipe to open the sun roof and putting a hand in a compartment to light it up.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

"I think there's situations for gestures, such as putting a hand in the glove box and it illuminates."

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept car

Discovery Vision Concept had its UK launch at the Royal Windsor Horse Show earlier this month, following the initial unveiling aboard US aircraft carrier HMSS Intrepid in New York in April.