Skip to main content
Move the World.
Distracted Driving

Lead Image Courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover

University of Cambridge researchers have developed a "touchless touchscreen" for vehicles that predicts what a driver wants to tap on a digital display before their hand actually makes contact.

In testing, the system reduced the amount of time a driver spent interacting with their display by 50% — meaning it could help address distracted driving, minimizing the amount of time a drivers' focus is off the road.

Distracted Driving

Every year, about 3,000 people in the U.S. die because someone was distracted driving — instead of watching the road, they might have been looking at their phone, fiddling with the radio, or typing an address into their navigation system.

Cambridge's touchscreen might not be able to get smartphones out of drivers' hands, but it could minimize the amount of time they spend on those other, more driving-adjacent tasks.

The university developed the "'predictive touch" tech powering the system as part of a collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover.

This tech uses a combination of sensors — including eye-gaze and gesture trackers — to monitor a driver's movements, feeding the data to an AI-powered program.

When the program senses that a driver is reaching toward the vehicle's display, it predicts what they're most likely trying to do, taking into account the sensor data as well as contextual information, such as the current environmental conditions.

To test their predictive touch tech, the researchers turned to driving simulators and road trials.

Based on the data from these tests, they determined that predictive touch reduced the time drivers spent interacting with their displays by half, quickly and accurately guessing where people wanted to touch.

That accuracy held up even when tested in moving cars, on bumpy roads, and by people with hand tremors, such as those with Parkinson's disease.

With a standard touchscreen, those variables can cause a driver to tap the wrong spot on a display — and the time they then have to spend correcting the mistake is more time that they're distracted driving.

Predictive Touch for Everything

Cambridge and Jaguar aren't the first to explore the use of gesture recognition tech in vehicles — BMW started selling cars equipped with it in 2016, and since then, several other automakers have followed suit.

Predictive touch reduced the time drivers spent interacting with their displays by half.

But the ability of those systems to cut down on distracted driving is limited to the number of people willing to buy the cars — any touchscreen can reportedly be retrofitted to work with Cambridge's predictive touch system.

That means it could one day make everything from smartphones to ATMs "touchless" — and while that won't do anything to keep drivers' eyes on the road, it could help stem the spread of germs and save you from having to constantly wipe fingerprints off your devices.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Dispatches
Driverless Cars Go Off-roading
Driverless Cars Go Off-roading
Dispatches
Driverless Cars Go Off-roading
Computer-game simulations can train self-driving cars to navigate in the real world.
By Matthew Doude, Christopher Goodin, and Daniel Carruth

Computer-game simulations can train self-driving cars to navigate in the real world.

Dispatches
Tesla Fixed Its Model 3 Brakes with Software – And Showed Us the Future of Cars
Tesla Fixed Its Model 3 Brakes with Software – And Showed Us the Future of Cars
Dispatches
Tesla Fixed Its Model 3 Brakes with Software – And Showed Us the Future of Cars
Consumer Reports failed the Model 3's braking system. A week later, Tesla beamed a fix to the entire fleet.

Consumer Reports failed the Model 3's braking system. A week later, Tesla beamed a fix to the entire fleet.

Self-Driving Cars are Finally Here. Sort Of.
Self-Driving Cars are Finally Here. Sort Of.
Self-Driving Cars are Finally Here. Sort Of.
Uber rolled out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, but they're not totally autonomous. Yet. Under Pennsylvania law,...
By Mike Riggs

Uber rolled out self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, but they're not totally autonomous. Yet. Under Pennsylvania law, every car still needs an operator.

Aerospace
What a Simulated Mars Mission Can Teach You About Life
simulated mars mission
Aerospace
What a Simulated Mars Mission Can Teach You About Life
After a simulated Mars mission, researchers come home with lessons we can all live by.

After a simulated Mars mission, researchers come home with lessons we can all live by.

Dispatches
We're Mapping 100 Trillion Human Cells (and All of Their Genes)
We're Mapping 100 Trillion Human Cells (and All of Their Genes)
Dispatches
We're Mapping 100 Trillion Human Cells (and All of Their Genes)
The "Human BioMolecular Atlas" will map the active genes in over 200 types of cells and 80 different organ systems.
By Mark Atkinson

The "Human BioMolecular Atlas" will map the active genes in over 200 types of cells and 80 different organ systems.

Dispatches
New Evidence Suggests Viruses May Trigger Alzheimer’s
New Evidence Suggests Viruses May Trigger Alzheimer’s
Dispatches
New Evidence Suggests Viruses May Trigger Alzheimer’s
For the first time in a long time, there's a new direction for potential Alzheimer's treatments.

For the first time in a long time, there's a new direction for potential Alzheimer's treatments.

The New Space Race
Can We Make It In Space?
Can We Make It In Space?
Watch Now
The New Space Race
Can We Make It In Space?
What if one day, everything in space was made in space? 3D printing may hold the answer.
Watch Now

NASA intern turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Jason Dunn, saw what was holding humans back from colonizing outer space...and decided to do something about it. With his company Made in Space’s cutting-edge 3D printer, astronauts can break their reliance on costly resupply missions from Earth and—for the first time ever—build new supplies for themselves in space. Dunn and his team believe their invention will usher in a new...

Why Advanced Cancer Patients Need Genetic Sequencing
Why Advanced Cancer Patients Need Genetic Sequencing
Watch Now
Why Advanced Cancer Patients Need Genetic Sequencing
Genomic sequencing saved his life. Now he wants everyone to have access.
Watch Now

After he was diagnosed with life-threatening prostate cancer, Intel’s Bryce Olson sequenced his genome which offered clues to new treatments for his disease. While the current standard of care for cancer patients includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, genetic sequencing opens the door for new possibilities beyond these traditional approaches. Bryce explains his personal mission to encourage others to get their...