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Apple has been granted a patent for a new touchy-feely dashboard device that could replace knobs and buttons with digital controls.

The iPad giant was granted the patent last week, raising the possibility that an iDashboard could soon be found in real-life motors.

The system cleverly uses a tactile touchscreen, which means it's easy to operate while keeping your eyes on the road: areas of the screen can be programmed to have a particular texture so buttons can be discerned from one's fingertips. Filed by Timothy Pryor, the iDash can be operated "without undue concentration on visually reading the display".

It can perform tasks such as navigation or hands-free calls, but also display information relating to the car's operation.

The patent slams traditional voice-recognition technology (cough, cough), which can inaccurately interpret users' commands thanks to background noise. Apple also dashed the possibility of a Knight Rider style computer, stating there is a "sociological problem" because "talking to one's car is unacceptable to many".

The iDash also features lasers to detect which part of the screen a driver is looking at, as well as cameras to track head movements.

Just in case fanbois become too distracted by the iDash, Apple were careful to make sure it doesn't interfere with the airbag.

Describing the development of the technology, Pryor wrote: "A revolutionary form of dashboard or instrument panel results which is stylistically attractive, lower in cost, customizable by the user, programmable in both the tactile and visual sense, and with the potential of enhancing interior safety and vehicle operation. Non-automotive applications of the invention are also disclosed, for example means for general computer input using touch screens and home automation systems."

The patent follows on from a withdrawn application in 2005 and a successful one in 2011.

Apple has been preparing to launch an assault on the car market for some time. Last month, the iPhone designer announced iOS7, which features close integration with automobiles. BMW is one of the companies expected to employ the new technology in a range of cars. ®

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