To be sure, TRW's system is not the first script-recognition device for automobiles. Audi already has similar systems in production, and other manufacturers are said to be working on the technology.
But by employing a less complex sensor array, TRW hopes that it can make its system appeal to manufacturers of entry- and mid-level vehicles. The company contends its technology is less costly than traditional indium-tin oxide (ITO) capacitive arrays and, therefore, would enable automakers to uses simple 8-bit and 16-bit MCUs to control it, instead of complex application specific integrated circuits (ASICs). TRW representatives would not say how large the cost reduction for automakers might be.
Studies performed by TRW reportedly suggest that the technology could reduce driver distraction by as much as 78 percent compared to the use of alpha-numeric keyboards. That would be a major step forward for automakers, many of whom are searching for new ways to deal with the myriad distractions in today's vehicles. In December, the National Transportation Safety Board called for the "first-ever nationwide ban on portable electronic devices" in vehicles, saying that driver distraction accounts for about 3,000 fatalities per year.
TRW's technology is likely to compete not only with other script recognition systems, but with voice recognition systems, as well. Today, many vehicles use voice commands to access dashboard features. TRW representatives said they see their technology as a step up from voice recognition.
"In a number of situations, touchpad controls can be better than voice commands as you do not have the issues of a noisy cabin or road environment that could obscure or cause the commands to be misinterpreted," TRW spokesman John Wilkerson wrote in an email to Design News.
TRW said it doesn't yet know when the technology will reach a production vehicle, but added that it is "working on capacitive sensing projects with automakers."