Drivers could soon control a car's functions without even having to touch them.
A simple wave of the hand could operate areas such as air conditioning, windows, audio systems and seating position adjustment.
US internet giant Google and car maker Ford are both said to be developing cars where many functions can be controlled using hand gestures. Specific hand movements would be detected by in-car cameras to replace the range of buttons and knobs that currently clog up vehicle dashboards.
Some experts believe such gadgets could have positivecar insurance implications, since they would free up drivers to concentrate on steering the wheel and the road ahead.
Patent applications published by both firms demonstrate how they want motorists to use a swipe gesture.
A flick of the fingers around the steering wheel would turn on windscreen wipers or indicators, for example.
Pointing at the sunroof will beckon it to open.
But Google says gesture recognition will be most beneficial when motorists are still needed to steer because it will help keep them from being sidetracked by buttons.
Google plans using three-dimensional video cameras inside cars to recognise gestures and a speaking function or display would confirm the function chosen.
RAC technical director David Bizley said: "We clearly welcome anything that reduces the risk of distraction for drivers, however voice activation systems would seem like a logical route to explore first as they would overcome any need to remove hands from the steering wheel.
"The arguments for using gestures ahead of voice to control windows, air conditioning and windscreen wipers therefore have to be compelling because one has to wonder how much less of a risk is it making a hand gesture than simply pressing a button or flicking a lever.
"Let's hope in years to come we don't start seeing lots of drivers desperately trying to make the right hand gesture in an attempt to open the windows or children accidentally setting off windscreen wipers off by waving their arms around."
Copyright © Press Association 2013