Look Ma, No Hands! Ford Gets KINECT'ed

When I was down in Las Vegas earlier this year, stuffing dollar bills into thongs and bathing in Cristal touring the booths at CES, Ford debuted their next generation SYNC entertainment system for their line of vehicles. Several months later, the system is getting a major overhaul … one that could have drastically change not only how you listen to music, email your friends, text, and order novelty lingerie from Amazon.com all at the same time from the convenience of your dashboard – but also how you drive! We don’t usually geek out about the technology side of things, but sometimes your socks get rock-’em-sock-’em’ed right off your feet. This is one of those times.

Ford just nuked my socks from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure), so excuse me while I gather them up and try to assess the damage to my cerebellum here. Ford had dropped some hints in the press event after the Focus BEV reveal that a groundbreaking “infotainment and control” system was in the works, but seeing as how Ford had literally just announced major improvements to their SYNC software and mobile applications, I assumed this was merely FoMoCo shorthand for “we will just keep rolling out periodic improvements.” When the press release hit my inbox last week, embargoed until April, I realized how wrong I was.
Click HERE for the official Ford press release (opens a .PDF file).
Microsoft has been suffering badly at the hands of Apple in terms of making segment-leading technology sexy enough to sell. I’m sure the Zune was a fine piece of work, but no one wanted one. Their Xbox Kinect software, on the other hand, has been flying off the shelves. And SYNC has been a boon for Ford as well. It must not have taken long for that HID lightbulb to go off over someone’s heads at both companies. The results are stunning: the Ford Kinect Vehicle Infotainment and Control System “remov[es] distracting and ergonomically problematic buttons, knobs, switches, pedals, and the clunky and hazardous steering wheel – all potential sources of injury in the event of a mishap – occupant safety is drastically improved” and replaces it with “the patented Gesture Wheel technology.”
What does this mean, exactly? It’s so totally insane it’s brilliant, and the only way to describe it is to quote the press release’s description in its entirety – “Seated in the driver’s seat, place your hands in the “10-and-2-o’clock” position as if you were taking hold of a conventional steering wheel. The Kinect system will recognize the placement of the driver’s hands and enter Eco Mode. By manipulating the virtual wheel, the Kinect sensors will turn Gesture Wheel inputs into drive-by-wire signals, precisely and seamlessly. Tilting the virtual wheel forward will accelerate the vehicle, adjusting output signals to the advanced engine management system to maximize vehicle fuel economy. Tilting the wheel back will decelerate the vehicle, utilizing engine braking or the antilock brake system as the system determines the optimal deceleration parameters based on Gesture Wheel inputs. Turning your hands as if turning the wheel will turn the vehicle, as naturally and intuitively as older direct-interface systems.” [Emphasis mine – AK.]
See? Mind. Blown. Of course, we’re going to reserve judgement until Ford allows us to “take the wheel” of the Focus BEV later this year, but until then, try and ignore that pungent smell. It’s just your socks smoldering on the ground, having been rocketed off your feet by the awesome.
Images courtesy Ford Motor Company. Thanks to David F. for the tip!

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29 responses to “Look Ma, No Hands! Ford Gets KINECT'ed”

  1. Hugh Johnson Avatar
    Hugh Johnson

    What's today's date?

  2. Maymar Avatar

    Doth my eyes deceive me? Awesome new tech, and a manual transmission? Just, do they have the Kinect sensors in the wheel well for the clutch pedal?
    Also, how does it treat us heathens who prefer 9 and 3 to 10 and 2?

    1. Maymar Avatar

      There's no way that can go wrong!

  3. muthalovin Avatar

    Jim, you are 107 years old? Amazing!
    (yeah, I read through the press release. I don't have much to do today)

    1. Jo Schmo Avatar
      Jo Schmo

      haha! I didn't see there was a second page. Awesome!

  4. SSurfer321 Avatar

    DO WANT!
    Assuming you can set the cruise control through the voice activated infotainment system.
    And with it being available on the electric vehicles, you don't have to worry about potential arm fatigue due to long road trips.
    *and I believe the tag should read Bold-Faced Lies as I am unsure what a bald-face lie constitutes….
    Are people without facial hair inherently less trustworthy?

    1. Feds_II Avatar

      From The Wick:
      Barefaced lie
      A barefaced (or bald-faced) lie is one that is obviously a lie to those hearing it. The phrase comes from 17th-century British usage referring to those without facial hair as being seen as particularly forthright and outwardly honest, and therefore more likely to get away with telling a significant lie. A variation that has been in use almost as long is bold-faced lie, referring to a lie told with a straight and confident face (hence "bold-faced"), usually with the corresponding tone of voice and emphatic body language of one confidently speaking the truth. Bold-faced Lie can also refer to misleading or inaccurate newspaper headlines, but this usage appears to be a more recent appropriation of the term.[1]

      1. SSurfer321 Avatar

        so we are both right?
        cool. thanks for the edumacation.

  5. aastrovan Avatar

    So if one control quits working does the entire system crash?
    Sounds like a nightmare to repair,and what about cost?

    1. PowerTryp Avatar

      The irony here comes in the fact that once you get the blue screen of death it is imediately followed by actual and potentially firey death.

      1. Jo Schmo Avatar
        Jo Schmo

        the red ring of death is also something to be concerned about but only less so, it usually just makes it so the car won't start. ever. again.

        1. freshdiag Avatar

          i can totally see people doing the "towel trick" to the whole car after RROD to get it to the garage *muhhahahah*

  6. Deartháir Avatar

    Never mind all that! Does it have iPod integration!?

    1. PowerTryp Avatar

      No, you have to buy a Zune.

  7. Feds_II Avatar

    How does it deal with Shuffle steering? By randomizing the playlist?

  8. omg_grip Avatar

    Not sure if I want to get a RROD at 60mph.
    But hey if its still under warranty they will fix it for FREE!

  9. PowerTryp Avatar

    Maybe, just maybe it's the fact that it's kinda sloppy. Or maybe it's the fact that I read an artical about the Russians launching a shark into space but this one was way to obvious.

  10. topdeadcentre Avatar

    Fabulous! I will no longer have to actually drive! I'll just point the car towards Cape Cod, set my cousin-in-law's Boston Terrier on my lap, keep my hands out of the way, and see if believing in Dog can keep me out of Hull…

  11. Motorist Avatar

    C'mon guys, it's April 1.

  12. dukeisduke Avatar

    Alex, were you at CES, or the adult film convention? They both take place at the same time.

  13. IronBallsMcG Avatar

    Link this with Gmail Motion, and you've got a winner! http://mail.google.com/mail/help/motion.html

    1. skitter Avatar

      All that did was disappoint me that I can't actually send gestures via-email.

  14. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
    mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    Ha! I remember reading about SAAB fiddling with joystick control for a car back in the '80s. Then in HS I was on a project to pitch a car of the future with my classmates. It was an electric minivan, but it too had joystick (and touch screen) control. My idea was an orb at the center. It would not move just sense how you pushed, pulled, twisted, and squeezed. I even did a mock-up of the touch panel with, wait for it, MS Windows technology preview for pen computing, or something really similar to that. Yes there was a version of Windows 3.1 for a non-existent tablet/pen computer with an incredibly poor implementation of handwriting recognition made even worse by the fact I only had a mouse to use. Anyway the presentation did not go well (mostly because I made a joke to the half women judges panel that they took poorly, sorry rest of my teammates), but about two years later I got a laptop with one of those pencil eraser mice. I loved it, since to anyone else it appeared I simply touched that doodad and then I was controlling the computer WITH MY MIND. I even joked that in fact it was a brain wave receptor. For a while I fooled some people even.

    1. Jo Schmo Avatar
      Jo Schmo

      hey now, we don't joke about hermaphrodites here, this is a family-oriented blog

  15. Jo Schmo Avatar
    Jo Schmo

    just what we need, a car that can be driven by fowl-mouthed 12 year olds, around a track faster than the worlds best drivers.

  16. Bensonius Avatar

    Did any of you actually read the PDF? It should be obvious the intent of this article after doing so.

  17. skitter Avatar

    Weaving through traffic without signaling.

  18. Jo Schmo Avatar
    Jo Schmo

    similar to this?
    [youtube Izet8zN1vmE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Izet8zN1vmE youtube]

  19. Target29 Avatar

    I think that you would make a (Nathan) "Lane" change….