Using heat rather than other, more annoying distractions to nudge you in the right direction, the U.K.’s biggest car manufacturer and Scotland’s Glasgow University are making a state-of-the-art “sensory” steering wheel, which lets drivers know when to make turns, when to switch lanes, or when a junction is upcoming.
It does all this by rapidly raising or dropping the wheel temperature by as much as 60 C at a time.
Rather than making drivers follow navigational directions on a screen, or jolt them into life with annoying vibrations or audio prompts, the warming or cooling of their hands is intended to guide them. For example, heat on the right side of the wheel might indicate an impending right turn.
“(W)e are committed to continuously improving our vehicles with the latest technological developments as well as preparing the business for a self-driving future,” said Alexandros Mouzakitis of Jaguar Land Rover in a release.
“The ‘sensory steering wheel’ is all part of this vision, with thermal cues able to reduce the amount of time drivers have to take their eyes off the road.”
The steering wheel forms part of a PhD study by academic Patrizia Di Campli San Vito, working at the Glasgow Interactive Systems Research Section, the university wing that focuses on human-computer interaction.
If the product gets to market, drivers will be able to adjust the technology depending on their own comfort levels, and it could be also used to let drivers know when they’re low on fuel. Beyond safety, it could even alert drivers to upcoming tourist spots or popular events that might take their fancy.
Quoting U.S. government figures and trumpeting the technology’s possible benefits, Jaguar Land Rover says that distracted driving accounts for one-in-ten deadly car accidents in America each year.
“Research has shown people readily understand the heating and cooling dynamics to denote directions and the subtlety of temperature change can be perfect for certain feedback that doesn’t require a more intrusive audio or vibration-based cue,” said Mouzakitis.
With an eye on a future burgeoning autonomous car market, Jaguar Land Rover says the technology is also being used on gear sticks, so that drivers will be able to know when a car has switched fully from driver to automated control.