By on January 31, 2012

“With a languid stroke, her lascivious fingers caressed the seat. Out of nowhere, Chopin’s Nocturnes engulfed Rudolfo’s vintage Testatrossa in a sea of glissandi. Soon, Rudolfo’s  testosterone was on full volume. He opened the first button of her blouse, there was a pop, then – silence.”

If Maksim Skorobogatiy of the Polytechnic School in Montreal, Canada, gets his way, then this is how future novels will be written. Or car catalogs. Skorobogatiy suggests:

“In essence we are trying to reproduce the smartphone experience in textile form. We are looking for applications where we can weave in sleek, non-invasive control, avoiding blocks of push buttons.”

The Canadian researchers created a soft polymer-based fiber, or make that fibre, which has electrical properties that change depending on where it is touched. The fiber can be woven into any fabric. That way, it can turn a car seat, or the lady’s blouse (“it`s getting hot, mind if I turn this down a bit … there you go”) into a touch screen.  There already may be a customer.

“Touch-sensitive surfaces are a very interesting technology for controlling operations in a car.

So said BMW spokeswoman Melina Aulinger to the New Scientist, which opines that “it might not be long before something similar is seen in our cars.”

Totally overlooked, a recent BMW concept car that appeared in March at the Geneva Motor Show, was operated via a touch-sensitive surface, heating and music were controlled by the driver’s gestures, Aulinger told the New Scientist.

It’s probably all a conspiracy to wean us away from leather and make us buy chintzy fabric seats that interface with our iPod.

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26 Comments on “Touch Me! You Are Such A Turn-On!...”

  • avatar

    It sounds like the radio described in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which was also controlled by gestures but required the user to sit infuriatingly still if they wanted to listen to anything.

  • avatar

    The first paragraph gives a whole new meaning to “slide to unlock.”

  • avatar

    “Maksim Skorobogatiy”

    Now there’s a mouthful.

  • avatar

    “In essence we are trying to reproduce the smartphone experience in textile form. We are looking for applications where we can weave in sleek, non-invasive control, avoiding blocks of push buttons.”

    Which is a good design goal for, eg, a smartphone, where the device is in your hand and has your undivided attention. It’s a bad idea in a car, where the instrument panel is one of several things you need to pay attention to. In such an environment, blocks of mismatched and obnoxious buttons are a good thing.

    Have you ever tried to use a smartphone driving? It isn’t easy.

    Designers really need to understand ergonomics. Yes, it’s nice to have pretty things, but pretty things get shelved when “pretty” is suffixed with “annoying”.

    • 0 avatar

      The fact that using a smart phone while driving is not easy, is not scientific evidence that proves touch based technology is bad for cars. It actually has no bearing on this discussion as it isn’t a device that was designed for use while driving.

      It isn’t about pretty vs not pretty. Having an interface that simplifies itself into just the items you need for the task you are performing has the potential to be radically superior to “blocks of mismatched and obnoxious buttons”. The only reason the buttons seem better for now is because you spent ample time with the automobile and imprinted their use on your brain. Hop into a friends Audi, and if you have never driven it before it will take considerable time to learn the interface. It is probably just as dangerous to tinker with it while driving, if not more so, then using a smart phone you are familiar with.

      This doesn’t even take into consideration the customization options you could have. If you liked your old 2005 Bimmer button layout, you could potential have a touch based interface that you could modify to mimic it exactly. Not that you will actually want to do that once the design possibilities of this sort of UI are fully realized.

    • 0 avatar


      “Have you ever tried to use a smartphone driving? It isn’t easy”.

      I think more than a few people have and that’s why they’re now dead or they unwittingly killed someone else…….I was nearly killed by a cell-phoning driver who ran a red light 6 years ago. He readily admitted to the police he was on the phone and distracted when he ran the red light and T-Boned me.

      I believe as more complicated electronic technology/touchscreens, etc make their way into automobiles the resulting accidents(without skid marks) will only increase.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem is that these are not well designed for the automotive environment. Right now they say “smart phone like” but the truth is the actual interface that works best inside a car is going to be it’s own thing. It might employ some touch technology, but ultimately the best solution is going to be the one that works best. Buttons galore get the job done for now, but they are far from the best solution.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not just smartphones. Ever try to use MyFordTouch? Or MINI’s equivalent?

      Touchscreens are all fine and good if you can actually take your eyes off the road, but controls that let you feel out what you’re doing rather than make you look every time you reach for the temperature down knob are not ideal for automotive use. And it’s not in how acclimatized you are to the system. I can touch-type on an iPad and my smartphone has swype, so touch controls are second nature to me, but I find that the simplest to use audio systems usually have two knobs and six buttons for the major controls, and the easiest to use climate controls have a rotary blower dial and a rotary temperature dial. Easy to use while on the go.

      Now, touch sensitive fabrics may be okay as long as you use textures or surface bumps to inform users that, yes, there is a control there, and use haptic feedback that tells you that, yes, you’ve just activated that control… but such things require processing power. And, as anyone who’s had issues with their iPad/iPhone/Android slowing down… or who’s seen the dreaded “Systems Maintenance” screen from MyFordTouch… that part’s a bit of a sticky problem.

      • 0 avatar

        MyFord Touch deserves some of it’s reputation due to the system instability at launch (largely fixed at this point) but the screen layout isn’t a problem for a few reasons.

        1. The major functions are easily accessible via hard buttons – audio on/off, volume, track/pre-set skip, audio source, fan speed, and temp up and down are all adjustable without using the touch screen. All of the audio controls are adjustable from the steering wheel.

        2. The functions that require use of the touch screen can all be adjusted easily at a stop light, or during an open expanse of road on a highway without taking undue attention away from driving.

        3. 90% of what you can do by touch can be done by a voice command without ever taking your eyes off the road or your hands off of the wheel.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, you can even adjust the climate control with the steering wheel controls… it’s so ridiculously easy from there that the touch screen is an afterthought. While Voice Command works for me, I have the ideal accent for it and can speak in a clear, crisp manner. (Lots of practice playing with English-teaching software for work). Regular schmoes sometimes have problems making it understand what they’re saying.

        The BIG problem is that all of the controls on the center-stack, even those that have individualized buttons, are touch-capacitive and linked to MFT. Which means you need to enable haptic feedback to assure people they work. Which means it takes more software to make them work.

        Ford’s problems have not completely disappeared. I drove a recent build truck and still had the screen freeze on me. Even 2012 builds have MFT freezing issues. Seems like a memory leak problem similar to the ones you get on smartphones. Only, in this case, it distracts you from doing something more important.

        When MFT starts to go bad, you sometimes have to press a control for two or three seconds to make it work, and the entire touch-sensitive center panel gets wonky. Would not be an issue if it was just the radio, but one of those touch-sensitive buttons affected by this issue just happens to be the control for the emergency blinkers….

        Contrast this to a non-integrated control which has a simple on-off switch attached straight to the subsystem it’s controlling, rather than one routed through a touch-sensitive-algorithm/haptic-feedback/mutli-button-reconfiguration central command system…

        What BMW and MINI are doing now is only slightly better in that the system doesn’t completely freeze on you and the emergency blinkers still have a physical button that actually works when you press it.

  • avatar

    There is nothing wrong with the temperature knob that needs to be fixed. It doesn’t matter what the car brand is or whether you are familiar with all of the HVAC controls or not. You can reach down, with out looking at the center stack at all, find the knob by feel alone, and turn it to the left to get cooler air.

    Replacing this with capacitive touch buttons because “that’s what smartphones have” is idiotic. You’ve completely lost the ability to use feel, you now MUST take your eyes away from the road to look at the center stack so you can find the touch button.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Nice picture, was there an article?

  • avatar

    Dan, that lady in the photo is way too petite for your taste.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I never got much lower than several inches under the neck. Which reminds me, I should send a “thinking of you” text to a certain lady. She loves that sort of thing.

  • avatar

    After reading that first paragraph (after looking at the picture for a little while) I could’ve sworn this was going to be a Baruth article.

  • avatar

    “He opened the first button of her blouse, there was a pop – then silence.”

    Reminds me of being 17.

    And last week…

  • avatar

    This was the only article I clicked on today. When time is at a premium, I have to decide if an article will be worth waiting for all the ads to load.

    There, I said it. Again.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Great photo. I can’t get the UFO theme out of my head now.

  • avatar

    I detail cars on the side – weekend work. I sometimes have to go to the customer’s house, pick up the POS – I mean car, drive it home, sanitize it and return to the scene of the grime. There are definitely some cars/trucks that make the friggin controls easy and others are in Egyptian pictograghs! Hey car makers, ever hear of KISS? No dummy, not Gene and the boys.

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