Yes, we appreciate digital music players instead of the old-school Walkmans. Digital television signals are a nice replacement for analog. Replacing in-car audio controls with touch-screen digital interfaces is less necessary, but I suppose I can be convinced.
I’m feeling pretty good, though, about current steering wheel technology. Surely no one would think the humble yet effective steering wheel should go digital, right?
A research firm in Germany believes the way humans have manipulated the direction of their vehicles for the last century should go the way of the cassette player.
Get ready for the touchscreen steering wheel.
Rather than the traditional spoked wheel wrapped in leather and attached to the steering linkage, the digital wheel is actually a thin sheet of acrylic rimmed with infrared LEDs. A lone infrared camera picks up reflections on the acrylic when touched, allowing a range of gestures to operate everything from steering to the stereo to climate control.
The idea is that the tech will allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road and away from other in-cabin distractions. What it does, though, is turn the steering wheel itself into another distraction (and an expensive replacement when the steering-wheel-mounted airbag goes off).
I don’t see what’s wrong with a simple volume knob in a car that a driver turns to the right when he or she wants louder music. Why must we be forced to learn a new interface for simple vehicle controls? Leave the radio controls on the radio, the window controls near the window and the HVAC controls on the center stack.
I’m not all that old, but I’ve been driving since before the digital age invaded the cabins of our cars. Like you, anytime I need to turn on the air conditioning or turn down the radio, my eyes don’t leave the road, because I know exactly where the controls are.
Changing that is just, well, reinventing the wheel.
What’s next, digital control of acceleration and braking? I think we should get back to the basics in vehicle controls. Do you?