Tactile display buttons for automotive interaction.

Context-sensitive physical buttons

In-car interaction suffers from a twofold problem:

  • Touchscreens are a massive driver distraction and hard to use from the driver's seat
  • Infotainment systems need flexible inputs to maximize functionality

To address this, we created physical buttons with LCD screens. When the context changes, so do the buttons - it's the best of both worlds.

Why physical buttons?

Driver distraction is a large and growing problem that is literally killing drivers every year. How many? In 2012 there were 3,154 people killed in crashes related to distracted driving, and over 424,000 were injured [1]. The simple fact is that if your eyes are on a screen, they aren't on the road, and using a touchscreen without looking at it is nearly impossible.

Touchscreen: 1.75s
ReactiveTouch: 0.75s

Touchscreens require you to look where your finger is, and also to confirm that an action was taken. Physical buttons require at most a glance - the tactile feedback does the rest. In our testing, simple actions on a touchscreen require an average 1.75 seconds of eyes-on time. First time users of the ReactiveTouch prototype completed the same actions with a single glance (0.75 seconds). And thanks to muscle memory, after a few uses users often didn't need to look at all. One second might not seem like much, but at highway speeds that is close to 100 feet traveled.

Aside from safety, physical buttons just feel better. Human hands are tactile. We expect the things we interact with to provide feedback via touch. As proven by Ford's recent return to physical controls [2], this is especially true for drivers who are used to vehicle controls providing continuous tactile feedback.

[1] Per distraction.gov

[2] Per ExtremeTech

See it in action

You can see the ReactiveTouch prototype in action here:

What does it take to build?


The 1.4" LCD screens used in our prototype can be purchased in volume for as low as $1. A Raspberry Pi has more than enough resources to handle processing.


The display buttons render simple, high-contrast images for each app page. All you need to specify is the image and action for each button.


ReactiveTouch is an interaction methodology - it could easily be implemented as an extension to existing technologies like MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

In the car (mockup)

Why stop at buttons?

Thanks to the rise of smart watches, circular displays are now becoming cost-effective. Knobs with integrated displays can provide multi-purpose, high-precision input without using central display real estate.

  • Temperature control
  • Vent selection
  • Fan speed control
  • Radio station selection

Who are we?


Michael Dorazio

Michael is a Manager at Concannon Business Consulting specializing in automotive software development and implementation.



Max Rasovsky

Max is a Product Manager specializing in consumer telematics and media integration.