Airbag is discreetly placed in the top of ZF Lifetec’s steering wheel rim

Self driving autonomous cars were a hot topic in the automotive industry around 2016, with many concept vehicles featuring screens in their steering wheels. While truly self driving cars may still be a few years away, innovations like the steering wheel airbag developed by ZF Lifetec are paving the way for this future. This article will explore the implications of this technology on steering wheel design and controls, as well as the potential for larger screens and more advanced features in steering wheels of the future.

The Development of the Steering Wheel Airbag
Around 2016, ZF Lifetec, known for producing car parts like transmissions and axles, introduced an airbag positioned in the rim of a steering wheel instead of the hub. By emerging from the upper part of the rim when the wheel is centered, the airbag leaves the hub free for other functions. A small portion of the bag extends into the space between the rim and the hub to center the device and prevent it from flopping into the driver’s knees during an accident.

Innovative Possibilities for Steering Wheel Design
While ZF Lifetec claims that the airbag enables forward-looking design options, their sample wheel remains conservative. The demonstrator features a single screen with capacitive controls at the edges, resembling traditional wheel spokes, flanking a small display. The center screen also includes buttons for functions like the horn, ensuring a familiar layout for drivers. This design could pave the way for more advanced features like sensors on the rim to verify hand placement when the vehicle requires human intervention.

Potential for Larger Screens and Advanced Features
Some critics argue that if a screen is going to be integrated into the steering wheel, it should be larger. With the center of the wheel becoming a display, designers have the freedom to create larger tablets bordered by a rim that allows enough space for fingers to fit between the tablet and the rim. Concepts like an octagonal steering wheel with an integrated Android tablet showcase the potential for more advanced features as steering wheels evolve. Yoke wheels could also enable designers to explore larger screen heights and more intricate designs.

Future Implications for Self-Driving Cars
As self-driving technology advances, steering wheels are evolving to accommodate new control systems and safety features. The integration of airbags in the rim opens up possibilities for more intuitive interfaces and advanced functionalities. Steering wheels with screens and sensors can enhance the driving experience and seamlessly transition between autonomous and manual modes. The canary of ZF Lifetec has signaled the beginning of a new era in steering wheel design, where innovation and technology are driving the future of automotive interiors.

In conclusion, the development of the steering wheel airbag by ZF Lifetec heralds a new era in automotive design and technology. As self-driving cars become more prevalent, steering wheels are evolving to offer advanced features and controls that enhance the driving experience. Larger screens, integrated tablets, and innovative designs are just the beginning of what the future holds for steering wheel technology. With ZF Lifetec leading the way, the possibilities for steering wheel design are endless, promising a future where the humble steering wheel becomes a hub of technology and innovation in the automotive industry.

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