Forget buttons, forget touchscreens. In the future we'll just wave our hands inside the car and stuff will happen. At least that's the idea behind BMW's HoloActive Touch, a concept interior that uses a free-floating projection that interacts like a physical touchscreen. BMW will show the system to the public at CES 2017 in Las Vegas.

The idea is similar to a head-up display, in that a reflection makes an image appear to float in midair. With HoloActive Touch, a control pad appears next to the steering wheel on the center console and can be configured to perform various functions. A camera tracks the position of the driver's fingertips. So you pretend to push a virtual button, and the system beeps in confirmation.

HoloActive Touch is an evolution of BMW Gesture Control, a feature in the current 7 Series that lets you control various features of the infotainment system using hand motions. It's an idea popularized in the movie Minority Report back in 2002 (side note: I feel old). Tom Cruise's John Anderton made it look easy, but he wasn't in a moving car. We're still not convinced that a car's infotainment needs the functional flexibility of a mobile phone or tablet. And if gesture control doesn't work, it could end up as Douglas Adams envisioned in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
"For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive – you merely had to brush the panel with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to listen to the same program."
But we'll reserve judgement until we get a closer look in person at CES, where we'll find out how well HoloActive Touch functions. Then we'll get back to examining the difference between can and should.

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