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Multi-touch steering wheel revealed?

by David Zatz on

Ralph Gilles appears in the Netflix series Abstract, talking about the Chrysler Portal (SM-1). There is a brief period during the episode where the design team is sitting inside a Jeep design buck.

The steering wheel in the buck is a prototype, and appears to be the same one used in the next generation Wrangler (JL), as shown in recent spy shots.

JL steering wheel

During the video, Ralph Gilles clearly states that the center buttons on each spoke of the steering wheel are touch-sensitive, like a computer trackpad. You can swipe it or slowly roll your finger up, down, left, and right to make changes, and push in to select (“enter”).

Automakers have been working on new input technologies for years; Toyota debuted a haptic touch-screen years ago, in auto-show displays though not in actual cars, which would provide the feel of buttons on a flat surface. Using miniature trackpads would make the most of steering-wheel real estate, possibly with greater reliability than buttons and almost certainly with lower cost.

Debuting a high-tech trackpad-enabled steering wheel on the 2018 Jeep Wrangler might seem odd, but the design is likely waterproofed and dirt-proofed — something that would be harder with buttons and would be valuable in the most off-road-ready topless vehicle in the world.

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