The Future of Steering (Wheels)
Will self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles mark the end of steering wheels?
Not if TRW has anything to say about it.
It developed a concept steering wheel for the Rinspeed XchangeE concept autonomous vehicle.
While the vehicle can operate in a self-driving mode, there are still plenty of situations when a human is in the loop, thus the need for a steering wheel. But one of the aspects of the TRW steering wheel system is that it isn’t necessarily the driver who will have command of the wheel, as it can be indexed over to be in front of the front passenger. It can also be centrally docked when the vehicle is driving itself.
Noted Guido Hirzmann, TRW group leader, new technology, Mechatronic, “With the increasing number of electronically controlled functions in the vehicle, certain controls can be eliminated or packaged into the steering wheel, offering more space and flexibility for the car interior. For example, with the XchangE vehicle, we have been able to remove the center console and integrate the gear shift into the steering wheel.”
The steering wheel also provides a “Drive Mode Manager” display. It’s located at the top of the steering wheel. When the car is in self-driving mode, an “A” is illuminated. When the driver takes the wheel, an “M” illuminates, indicating “manual” mode.
And autonomous or not, what would a car in a city be without a horn? In this case, the horn is activated by touching a conductive area on the steering wheel airbag cover.
The mid-size 2005 Pathfinder, Nissan's largest design and development program to date, involved three technical centers, and took 36 months and countless trans-Pacific trips to complete. Though it borrows major components from the full-size Titan pickup and Armada SUV, it's not just a downsized clone.
Plenty of interior components are injection molded. But some companies—such as VW—are using a process for trim pieces that both mold a component and cover it in fabric in a single molding process. And it is coming to the U.S. in the not-too-distant future.
The only back-seat driver in designing automotive seats and trim covers is PLM. That’s a good thing.