An "intelligent" car with a "virtual" dashboard that obeys the driver's commands by responding to hand gestures? That'll be the Daewoo, as the Korean car-maker's advertisements like to say. But thanks to research conducted at Derby and Dundee universities, this motor enthusiasts' dream could soon be a reality.
Using miniature cameras and advanced digital technology, a team from Derby's Applied Vision Research Unit is working on a three-year project to develop a car with one of the world's most advanced vehicle control systems.
Working in partnership with researchers in Dundee's department of applied computing and with the company Vision Dynamics Ltd, they have developed Advanced Camera Technology in Visual Ergonomics (Active) - a system that enables drivers to adjust in-car controls such as heating, lighting and audio by pointing a finger at a "hot spot" on the dashboard or lower windscreen.
Daewoo, which is managing the initiative, has built Active into its concept car for the 21st century, the Mirae, which was unveiled recently at the London Motor Show. The car-maker has sufficient confidence in the project to predict that it could begin to feature in cars coming off the production line even before the research contract time is up.
Pat Selwood, Daewoo's new-technologies manager, said the system had the potential to significantly improve safety as well as comfort and convenience for the driver.
"It means, for instance, that you do not have to take your eyes off the road to fumble with tiny buttons and dials to tune the radio," he said.
It could also lead to a revolution in interior car design, by dispensing with bulky dashboards. "At the moment, the dashboard is a major part of the design and there is not much room for alteration. But with Active we could have almost no dashboard, which means it could be much more comfortable for the driver and there would be fewer things to hit your head on in the event of a collision," Mr Selwood added.
Active uses miniature cameras placed in the car to monitor the driver's gestures. It relies on computer technology to log information relayed from the camera system and interpret the data as commands to the dashboard controls.
Alistair Gale, who is leading the research project at Derby, said the system is being put through its paces in intensive simulator tests to tackle a number of potential problems, such as the impact of inadvertent gestures made by the driver.
He said: "It is a technical challenge to develop this system because it relies upon a totally new display and detection concept. It will take 'state of the art' to further dimensions in the British motor industry and will have huge benefits for drivers and manufacturers alike."