FRANKFURT – Highly touted 3-D gesture controls in the ’16 BMW 7-Series debuting at this week’s Frankfurt auto show merely hint at the potential for the Delphi system integrated into the German automaker’s fullsize sedan, the supplier says.

The all-new 7-Series features a new audio and communication interface that uses simple midair finger gestures to control functions such as audio volume.

The system retains an iDrive controller and redundant steering wheel switches to handle many of the same functions, but the gesture option provides a simple and intuitive alternative. For example, adjusting audio volume requires a simple midair twirl of the index finger near the audio screen in the center stack, without actually touching any knobs or buttons.

But Martin Bornemann, engineering director-infotainment and driver interface development for Delphi Electronics and Safety in Europe, says the company will offer considerably more capability in coming years, increasing usability as well as safety by limiting driver distraction.

At the heart of the technology is a concept now in development that uses cameras for facial recognition and to detect head direction and eye gaze to aid the driver in hands-free control of on-board systems. By detecting head direction, the interface can bring up information screens on the instrument cluster or the center stack based on where the driver is looking. Facial recognition can allow for vehicle personalization by identifying the person at the wheel and deploying individualized vehicle settings for that driver.

The facial-recognition and head-direction-detection capabilities are about 2½ years from introduction in a production car in Europe, while the eye-gaze portion is further out on the development cycle, Bornemann says.

Delphi also is developing more-robust natural voice controls that, in concert with eye-gaze tracking, can assist in selecting icons from a menu by glancing and speaking.

“It’s really like Star Trek – you can select items via your voice,” Bornemann says.

The more-advanced technology will require several additional infrared cameras beyond the current 7-Series setup that employs one overhead infrared camera to detect hand and finger movements to control audio and mobile phone functions.

bgritzinger@wardsauto.com