Toyota's Touch Tracer System - Eyes on the Road, Hands on the Wheel

Scott Benjamin

Have you ever read about a new automotive technology and thought to yourself, "How is it that someone didn't think of this idea sooner?" or perhaps even, "Why didn't I think of that? That's a million-dollar idea." It seems like I do this once a week (maybe even more often than that). Well, this time, I'm giving myself a big forehead slap over Toyota's Touch Tracer display. It's a feature that will soon be available in the 2010 Toyota Prius. The Touch Tracer system isn't new or breaking news by any means -- just something that I stumbled across while doing some reading earlier this morning. Nevertheless, it's a cool technology.

Steering wheel controls are nothing new, right? Steering wheel audio system and temperature controls are fairly common in a lot of new cars, trucks and SUVs. However, Toyota's Touch Tracer display takes this idea one step beyond by allowing the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road -- well, much closer to the road, anyway.

By placing a finger on any of the steering wheel control buttons, the driver triggers a duplicate image of the controls to be temporarily displayed in the dashboard display -- right in the same area as the speedometer readout. An orange highlight within the display follows the driver's touch. There's no need to actually press a button to get the display to activate; a light touch is all that's required. Using the visual display, the driver can make the appropriate selection without having to look down toward the steering wheel to see the buttons. According to a Toyota press release, Touch Tracer "is the first system in the world to allow steering wheel controls to read out on the instrument panel."

If you're curious about what all of this looks like, Toyota has posted a good photo and a short description of the Touch Tracer display (and several other 2010 Prius features) on its Web site.

A pretty simple and smart feature, don't you think? I'm sure that the actual execution of this technology is fairly complex (beyond my understanding, anyway) but as for the basic idea ... once again, why didn't I think of that?

More related stuff: How Car Steering Works How Dashboard Displays Work How to Make a Million Dollars 2010 Toyota Prius Review and Prices