TECH: What Are Vehicle Gesture Controls and How Do They Work?

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Vehicle gesture controls are the newest way to control the infotainment in your vehicle. We explain how it works and why you’ll love it using the 2017 BMW 530i as our example.

Have you ever been driving and found yourself trying to aim for a button? Any button, whether it be to silence or accept an incoming call, or to change the radio station can be a distraction that takes your eyes off the road. Automakers are working hard to make the way we interact with our vehicles easier. One new technology just appearing in new vehicles is gesture control.

Like it sounds, gesture control allows a driver to perform some kind of task or menu selection without looking away from the road to aim a finger at a button or touch screen spot. The new 2017 BMW 530i offers gesture controls as an option. The system works with a camera that is mounted in the headliner above the infotainment system. The camera watches for a limited set of movements the driver can make in that area. Each movement has an assigned function.

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For example, to change the radio station one simply flicks one’s fingers forward. To turn up the volume the driver makes a circle with one finger clockwise. To turn down the volume the driver rotates a finger counter-clockwise. We tested the BMW 530i this past week and found that the system is intuitive and simple to use. Watch how easy it is in the video above. Unlike voice commands, we found the system worked 100% of the time we used it and that it didn’t have a learning curve. The car recognized our gestures the first time and every time.

Other gestures that the car comes pre-set to understand are a pointed finger at the screen, which translates to “accept that incoming call.” A swipe of the driver’s hand from left to right across the general area of the screen when a call is coming in that one would like to ignore is all it takes to silence that call and send it to voice mail. The system also allows for some other limited gestures and one can even assign a gesture to a function.

It is always refreshing when a new technology works exactly as it is supposed to. BMW offers gesture control on the 2017 530i as a $190 option.