Auto parts giant reinvents the steering wheel for a next-gen drivers

The term “don’t reinvent the wheel” is often used in situations or scenarios where someone would overcomplicate things when it could be simple. 

Automakers, on the other hand, think differently. In many modern cars, the simple steering wheel has as many buttons, toggles, and switches as a video game controller. At the same time, Tesla  (TSLA)  has forgone the mainstream “round” steering wheel and incorporated the infamous “yoke” in its flagship cars.

However, one German company, whose parts are found in a wide variety of cars on the road, has devised a way to reinvent the wheel for today’s tech-dependent drivers.

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The new steering wheel concept by ZF LIFETEC


At their first-ever Technology Day, German auto parts supplier ZF Group showcased a new steering wheel design incorporating a new airbag design that is made to deploy from the top of the wheel, rather than the front.

In a typical steering wheel installed on modern cars, the airbag is mounted front and center of the wheel, as the airbag is designed to inflate on top of the wheel in the event of a crash. With this design, ZF mounts the airbag in a different place, freeing up room for whatever manufacturers would like to incorporate with their new design.

In the mock-up example it exhibited, ZF incorporated a small screen right dead-center of the steering wheel in the usual place where an automaker’s logo would usually go. Although ZF calls this a “seamless, smartphone-like design,” the intention of this is not meant to enable distracted driving, but rather the opposite. 

The new steering wheel concept by ZF LIFETEC


According to ZF, the static or touchscreen monitor can be used as an additional display for safety-related alerts like pre-collision warnings and blind-spot monitoring. The team at ZF behind this steering wheel also emphasized that the steering wheel can also be configured with a hybrid layout combining the use of screens, rotary switches and force-sensitive and tactile switches.

Additionally, the extra room could allow automakers to add in more sensors, including those used in semi-autonomous vehicles. ZF says that that the wheel can be also be used with what they call “hands-on” detection, which uses a capacitive sensor under the steering wheel leather that senses when the wheel is being held.

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ZF currently has no timeline for when this type of technology will roll out into passenger cars, but given that ZF LIFETEC — the newly renamed arm at ZF specializing in passive auto safety system components, currently has 20% of the global market share; a car with a steering wheel with this new technology might be coming to cars hitting the showroom floor sooner rather than later.

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Union Capital Financial Group Ltd, registered in the British Virgin Islands, does not provide investment services inside the United States. The company only provides consulting, advisory and educational services.