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ZF's concept steering wheel integrates gesture control

The German firm sees a future where touchscreens and capacitive sensors bring further functionality to your steering wheel.

Autonomous cars are changing all of the rules, so ZF decided to go full "Pimp My Ride" by putting a 7-inch touchscreen with gesture control into a steering wheel.

German automotive technology firm ZF is pretty sure it can improve the functionality of the humble steering wheel, not by adding a gaggle of physical buttons and switches, as in many race cars, but by adding capacitive sensors around the rim and a 7-inch LCD touchscreen in the center, in addition to a host of LED lights. 

ZF envisions this steering wheel as being a more natural way to control various functions in future self-driving vehicles, making it easier for car and driver to trade off control.

ZF's vision for the future of steering wheels.

ZF

Putting a screen in the middle of a steering wheel is not as simple as it sounds. Finding a way to not only make room for the requisite airbags but finding a way to deploy them in such a way that they don't destroy your fancy screen required some serious figuring by Germans in short sleeve dress shirts and likely very thick glasses. They figured out a way to make the airbag deploy from the rear of the rim of the wheel and wrap around, protecting the driver's face from the screen (and vice versa).

"ZF's advanced steering wheel concept represents an important step in the evolution of automated driving while helping to enhance safety and driver awareness. As we prepare for Level 3 automated functions, the hand-over of control between vehicle and driver using highly accurate feedback will be critical. We believe our new concept is the most intuitive and provides the clearest feedback to the driver," said Juergen Krebs, vice president of engineering for steering wheel systems and driver airbags, in a statement.

The ZF advanced steering wheel concept will be on display at the manufacturer's booth at CES in Las Vegas next month. We'll attempt to get some hands-on time with it and report back our findings.