Lexus Hybrids Merge Mouse, Monitor and Windshield

New nationwide laws to discourage driving while texting are in the works, but no law will stop the rapidly expanding number of electronic devices and screens from encroaching upon the driving experience. The center-mounted touch screen on hybrids has been one of the worst offenders—as drivers look over and reach over to monitor mileage, energy use or adjust climate and entertainment functions. Fortunately, car designers are beginning to borrow from the best in personal computer interface design to address these issues. Lexus hybrids—such as the Lexus HS 250h arriving in showrooms in a few weeks—provide a good example of how the merger of car and computer might help drivers keep their eyes on the road.

Lexus Remote Touch
Lexus Remote Touch

Top: Mouse-like control of screen functions.
Bottom: The Lexus HS 250h cockpit meets the computer work station.

Cars with Built-in Mouse Pads

The Lexus HS 250h and RX 450h hybrids place an oversized monitor more in line with the driver’s field of vision, and control of that monitor where the driver’s hand would naturally fall. A hand rest contoured to fit your palm has a small finger pad that works like a trackball. It’s connected wirelessly to the vehicles infotainment system, and moves a cursor across the screen. An “Enter” button on either side of the hand rest provides point and click functionality.

“This is much more like navigating a smart phone or any other kind of consumer electronics than what you think of as rather arcane interfaces in a lot of cars today,” said
Brian Cooley, CNet’s Cartech Editor at large.

Lexus calls the system “Remote Touch,” and it’s a big improvement over the previous generation of dials that force you to scroll through cryptic or cumbersome choices.

Cars.com reviews the Remote Touch system.

The mouse/joystick/trackball thingy also employs “haptic” technology that adjusts the resistance felt by the driver. The driver feels like the pointer is gravitating toward, and locking into, the big icons on the screen. The feeling is similar to a bump or rolling a ball over a flat surface and into a depression, and is reminiscent of the Wii controller.

Vehicles equipped with the nav package also feature a “casual-speech voice recognition system” that means not having to touch anything. Users say “Find XM Channel 150” or “Make it cooler” to affect entertainment or climate functions. In a step that will add, rather than reduce, distractions, Lexus recently rolled its “Enform” infotainment package that brings weather, sports, and stocks to the center monitor. (Warning: Watching the performance of stocks in your 401k is a sure fire way to get into an accident.)

The final step in blurring the lines between the real and virtual worlds is the Lexus heads up system. Your speed and other control systems are projected directly out in front of the vehicle as if floating on the road. If you’re using the navigation system to plot your route, an arrow will be projected before you get to your next turn. The “Lane Keep Assist” system uses a special camera and sensors to warn you that you are drifting in the next lane. If you start to leave the lane, the system will alert you and even try to steer the vehicle back into its lane.

Lexus video promoting the Lexus HS 250h’s entertainment and info interface.

When Jalopnik posted on the Lexus Remote technology, one commenter named Jo Schmo wrote, “So the shifter is shoved off to the side to allow a mouse to take its place? What is the world coming to?” The reply from sos10 was, “It’s a hybrid.”

Jo Schomo wrote back, “Good point. I suppose it won’t be long before cars are drive-by-mouse anyway. Right click to exit car, roll down windows, etc.”


  • Lost Prius to wife

    I think the “heads-up” projection is a good idea. I dislike taking my eyes off the road. Too many times looking sideways towards the display screen has allowed situations to start to develop that were not good for my health. Hopefully one will be able to pick and choose what and where the information is displayed.

  • Dom

    Well, these autotragics have already gotten rid of the clutch pedal, might as well get rid of the shifter too…
    Hey, how about turn the foot pedals into mouse like controls as well? Bring back the “clutch” pedal, and you’ve got a three “button” mouse down there too! Then you won’t have to take your hands of the steering wheel (or put down the burger and soda), but can still control the computer, which will in turn drive the car (acceleration, braking etc). The steering wheel is already full of buttons for the sound system and such…

    I do like the projected image stuff…

  • RKRB

    Heads-Up Displays are one thing, but the proposed Lexus system seems quite another. Texting, phoning, or watching video graphics while driving is a sure-fire way to kill or injure more people, and it is one of the few really good, defensible reasons to buy a much larger car (to protect yourself from those who are driving while distracted), which in turn affects the environment. Anyone who does this kind of stuff should be aware that they are very willing to kill or maim other innocent people (including children), generally for a very trivial and selfish reason. The auto manufacturers are apparently happy and willing to do the same — how can Ford suffer such vilification from the Pinto incident of several years ago, when manufacturers are most willing to profit from these devices? Why not allow beer coolers, driver’s TV screens, or alcohol dispensers in cars, too, while we are at it?

    How bad is it to text and drive? Car and Driver did some tests recently (www.caranddriver.com, then key in either “texting” or, when you are not driving, go to http://www.caranddriver.com/features/09q2/texting_while_driving_how_dangerous_is_it_-feature) and found it was worse than drinking. Much worse. Granted, it was an unscientific test with significant variation, but that should not significantly damage its credibility or its application to other devices.

    At a legal and ethical minimum, car manufacturers and dealers should have a strong and graphic disclaimer about the dangers of using these devices whenever they are sold, and they should pay into a fund to pay the medical expenses of those who are injured using devices they profit from. Again, it’s one thing to put some useful information on the windshield, and it’s quite another thing to use the center screen to put up your stock market reports or the latest message about your friend’s latest hair style.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    RKRB, your comments are exactly why I stated “pick and choose what and where the information is displayed”. No texting should be allowed. And there are some scientific studies that do prove that texting while driving is worst than a full blown DUI driver. Phoning should be by voice recognition only with no displaying on the “heads-up” (there is some debate on even allowing phoning while driving). Speed, directions, and called-up car functions (along with displaying the failure of car functions) should be allowed along with where they are displayed (centered, slightly left, and/or slightly right of straight on view). There should be memory tied into the heads-up display so it could be proved that someone was reviewing their stock portfolio instead of driving when the accident or vehicular homicide occurred.

  • Mister E.

    Last week we leased a Lexus RX 450h for my wife. We were extremely disappointed to find out that the navigation system will not allow input while the vehicle is moving.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think driving while entering navigation commands is dangerous and should not be done. However, if there is someone in the passenger seat operating it, then why not allow it? My wife and I often hop in the car and head toward the freeway while she enters our destination into the navigation system while I drive. Sometimes we decide to head somewhere unexpectedly (restaurant, etc.) and she’ll enter the address into the navigation system while we’re traveling down the freeway. Due to this ‘over-nannification’ we must now either enter the info before we start out, or pull over to do so. At the same time, there is nothing to keep me from eating a bowl of cereal or changing my clothes while driving…other than good common sense.

    If we are to assume that anything that the car allows and the law does not specifically prohibit (i.e. texting, non-hands-free phone calls, etc.) is okay, then we’re going to need a boatload more laws. Without them are we to assume that surfing the web or checking stock quotes on a laptop sitting in the passenger seat is okay because there is no law specifically prohibiting it and the vehicle cannot prevent it? Whatever happened to simple laws like “reckless driving” or “reckless endangerment”?

  • Stan Smart

    Great if you’re right-handed … not so good for us (superior brained) lefties!!!

  • bill cosworth

    did gm have heads up display in 1980?

    toyota loves to copy it and say its there technology

  • Anonymous

    Taking away features like this from the driving experience is like turning the clock back on the automobile’s progress. If this kind of nonsense continues it will only hurt progress further. I hope these type of systems continue to be built into cars and as the future continues and become more and more built into the interface.

    Hopefully these type of systems won’t be as much of an issue as cars become more automated in the driving experience in that you can simply check things while the car drives you, rather than try to check your facebook status while trying to drive, which is obviously not responsible… currently.

  • Samie

    I do not know the legality of this but it seems some standards should be agreed upon b/t car manufactures & car insurance companies. I don’t think negligence would be the right reasoning behind the increase of distracting video interfaces but as I said some general standards should be put in place. I would rather see two parties come up w/ agreements but unfortunately it will take big bad government to either do it or force auto manufactures to self regulate.

    I’m a bit alarmed at some comments we all like animated gadgets in vehicles but some rational is ridiculous. It is only for a passenger is not good enough b/c at times the driver will use it to. To say that everyone will be responsible when looking at stock options is silly most of us realize when not to talk on a phone when say its raining or when we really need to be extremely alert due to road conditions but not everyone does or cares. I just hope that major industries can come up w/ some guidelines or solutions instead of looking at fancy interfaces as ways to sale a vehicle instead of worrying about whats most important the lives & safety of the driver & everyone else on the road but unfortunately until some highly recognizable person or (media played event) gets in a accident b/c of someone texting or watching videos congress don’t step in & probably right now takes lobbying money in to not create stricter driving rules. That’s a rant but nobody should ever see their life end because of failed policies or neglecting societal benefits in the name of profits….. Also some personal responsibility needs to be enforced into those who don’t care. DWT or DWI it shouldn’t matter!

  • RKRB

    Lost Prius to Wife: Excellent points as usual, including the last one. I guess I just got carried away due to a recent death of one of our friends, who was killed by a driver on their cellphone (our friend was burned to death and the driver received probation), and by recently reading about a young man with a promising future who was killed by a texting driver (the driver said he felt bad about it but defended himself by saying he had an important message to deliver when the “accident” occurred). The consequences of driving using alcohol or “video-game-like” devices is the kind of stuff that drives people (understandablly) to accept the consequences of more incompetent government control.
    Bad capitalism drives people to bad socialism, as our last election demonstrated. A “nanny state” with severe restrictions is one thing, a safe and sane environment is another.
    Sorry.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    RKRB, I just checked in and found your reply. You do not need to apologize for the lost of your friend. You did not get “carried away”; you just know more pointedly what can happen with the misuse of technology. I am very sadden that you lost a friend that way. I find it difficult to believe that someone can even think that an “important message” is more important than another person’s life. I hope a copy of the “important message” was presented to the judge for review before passing final judgment and sentence.

    Samie, it is hardly a rant to expect all people to show some personal responsibility. Normally, the older one gets, the more one realizes just what true responsibility entails. But, unfortunately, a lot of the younger generation and some of the older generation fail to understand and/or accept what responsibility is all about. Hence the requirement of letting the government and the corporations impose laws, restrictions, and mandated technology leading to RKRB’s “nanny state”. It is just very hard, if not impossible, to legislate morals and one’saccepting responsibilities, or building tamperproof technology.

  • veek

    Perhaps the screen system may help explain the July 15, 2009 posting, which notes that hybrid drivers have noteably more tickets, are involved in more accidents, and have higher insurance losses. Perhaps this situation will continue, based on the proposed Lexus system.

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  • Jim Snedeker

    It doesn’t matter if your eyes are on the road, what matters is if your BRAIN is on the road! If you’re thinking about something other than what you’re looking at beyond the windshield, you are a menace to society.

    Displaying pictures on your windshield is the dumbest thing to come along in years. You’re driving a car, people, you’re not sitting a desk! Pull over to make a phone call if you must. But keep the workstation out of the car!

    Let’s all wait to hear about the first child who was killed because someone was too busy looking at the pretty pictures on their windshield to notice the road.

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