Point & Click

Lexus’ Remote Touch system ushers in a new age of vehicle systems control.

Fact: 21st-century luxury cars are complex. Also a fact: That’s a good thing. After all, with complexity comes a level of driver convenience (push button ignition!), comfort (four zone climate control!), and enhanced safety (Pre-Collision System![1]) that makes driving a Lexus an extraordinary experience.

However, the challenge of growing complexity is this: As more systems are added, there’s more for the driver to search for, understand, and control while driving—what engineers call a driver’s “mental load.” In fact, there’s even a breaking point—a boundary where too many vehicle systems prevent the addition of new innovations, or worse yet, diminish the driver’s on-the-road focus.

Until now.

Lexus’ new Remote Touch system, available in the 2010 RX and upcoming HS 250h, is one of those breakthroughs that just may usher in a new industry standard, in this case a new way to help drivers control automobile technologies.

Remote Touch screen shotThe general concept is simple: Instead of having to search around the dashboard for the right button, the driver has a fixed hand controller on the low center console—a sort of wide joystick that fits under the palm or fingers. Through subtle joystick movements, the driver can quickly navigate a display-screen pointer through the menu of vehicle systems (the same intuitive menu and graphics Lexus drivers are used to for the previous touch-control system) which the driver then selects by clicking buttons at the top and side of the device.

Let’s say you want to turn on the sound system. Placing your fingers on the device, you’d simply extend your index finger forward and left-click the menu button, direct the on-screen pointer to the “Audio” icon (see image of Start screen) via the joystick, and then click the enter button near your thumb. Done. Other buttons on the controller include a right-click map button for displaying your location on the optional navigation system,[2] as well as a thin middle button for scrolling the map size up and down.

If this all sounds a lot like using a desktop PC, that’s because it is. In fact, it’s part of the system’s brilliance, and what sets it apart from previous industry attempts at hand-device systems, such as dials. When trying it out, I found Remote Touch comfortable from the get-go, largely because I was already used to the computer-like screen-and-mouse motions involved.

RXOf course, what’s different about a car is the presence of a more important screen that must be looked at—the windshield—which is why Lexus engineers designed Remote Touch to be used quickly and intuitively, with minimal time needed to glance away from the road. For example, in the new RX and HS 250h, the navigation screen’s locale is now only slightly below the driver’s eye level, so it’s practically in line with the road ahead. The screen menu is, as mentioned above, the same as before: very simple, with large, intuitive icons that are quickly discerned. Plus the system is haptic, meaning that your joystick hand “feels” the menu as you move through it—it’ll even beep when selections are made.

Which leads to a final feature that sets Remote Touch apart. Knowing well that a human’s ability to see, feel, and hear varies, the engineering team designed Remote Touch to be adjustable. Among the options: the intensity of the haptic force, the volume of the aural beeps, and the on-screen pointer’s size and shape. It’s all part of Lexus’ driver-focused approach—a commitment to developing technologies that serve your needs at every turn.

And that’s a simple fact.

Legal disclaimers

[1] The Pre-Collision System is designed to help reduce the crash speed and damage in certain frontal collisions only. It is not a collision-avoidance system and is not a substitute for safe and attentive driving. System effectiveness depends on many factors, such as speed, driver input and road conditions. See your Owner’s Manual for further information.

[2] The navigation system is designed to assist in locating an address or point of interest. Discrepancies may be encountered between the system and your actual location. Road system changes may affect the accuracy of the information provided. Rely on your common sense to decide whether to follow a specified route. Detailed coverage not available in every city or roadway. Periodic updates available at an additional cost. See your Navigation System Owner’s Manual for further details.