Should’ve Seen This Coming: Digital Steering Wheel On the Way?

Touchscreen steering wheel

Note to inventors of the world: Not everything needs to go digital.

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?


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  1. As stunning as the steering feel is in a car like BMW’s M3, it’s amazing that the car has so many buttons encrusting both the front and back of the wheel. The gadgetry does nothing for the wonderful function of this driver’s machine.
    As always, manufacturers will abuse these gadgets in their quest to generate profits that our government will have to take action to get it under control. That’s ironic when you consider that automakers have fought tooth and nail against virtually every basic safety feature in the last 100 years and they’ve had to be forced to adopt safety technology like air bags and stability systems. The result is the lowest highway death rate in history, all of which you can thank outfits like NHTSA and IIHS.

  2. Another really stupid idea no wonder nobody knows how to drive anymore There are far too many silly gadgets in new cars already simple controls work this will not

  3. What i think would be funny is when people can’t do anything on the steering wheel because there is no power to the wheel and all that’s going to happen is a tech is going t have to go to the customer an all he is going to d is check for is power, grounds and the fuse then they charge to customer $200 for the tech to check a couple connections

  4. What a terrible idea. You are right: It’s just another distraction to take your eyes off the road. When are people going to wake up to the fact that the purpose of driving is driving, not manipulating gadgets and accessories?

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