Alps imagines the car dashboard of the future

The company hopes its sensors will make a splash in future automobiles

A facial sensor in the car dashboard of the future, as imagined by sensor-maker Alps Electric, on show at Ceatec 2013 in Japan on October 1, 2013.

A facial sensor in the car dashboard of the future, as imagined by sensor-maker Alps Electric, on show at Ceatec 2013 in Japan on October 1, 2013.

When you sit in the car of the future, you won't need to worry about keys or adjusting your seat and you'll even get a quick health check when you sit in the driver's seat.

At least, that's the dream of Japan's Alps Electric. The company has built a futuristic dashboard and a driver cabin that's packed with the company's sensor technology and realizes these features. It's on show this week at the Ceatec expo in Japan.

The keys are gone because the car features a facial recognition system. If the driver isn't registered to use the car it won't start. And don't think about drinking while sick. A line of sensors checks basic vital signs, such as heart rate, and won't let the car start if it judges the driver isn't fit enough to drive safely.

An NFC (near-field communication) sensor in the dashboard provides a path between the car's IT system and a smartphone, which in turn connects to the Internet. If the driver needs to adjust any controls on the cell phone while driving, all that's required is a wave of the hand. A gesture recognition system means drivers don't have to use the phone's screen while driving -- something that's illegal in many countries.

When in motion, the same facial recognition system keeps watch on drivers to ensure they remain looking ahead while in control of the vehicle.

The demonstration is designed to highlight Alps' sensors, but many of the same technologies are already being developed by automobile makers. Cars have gotten much more high-tech in the last few years as safety and entertainment systems become an increasingly important part of vehicles.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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