A new patent aims to mold your steering wheel to your hands, no matter how big or small they are.
General Motors recently filed a patent for an adaptive steering wheel, which can change within seconds to provide the driver with a rim more suited to whatever they happen to be doing with the car.
There's an old saying about reinventing the wheel, but in this case, GM might be on to something. By using a simple bladder system between the rim and the rim trim, this particular steering wheel can change the shape, thickness, and placement of the grips.
Unlike Tesla's widely ridiculed yoke, this has actual real-world application. In addition to all the above adjustments, the exterior texture can also adjust grip levels, hardness, and texture.
The fundamental inner workings of the adaptive steering wheel are remarkably simple. The steering wheel rim incorporates one or more bladders that can be inflated/deflated using fluid or gas.
These bladder rims can be used to manually select the steering wheel characteristics, just as you'd choose a driving mode. To demonstrate, we'll use a Corvette Stingray. In its default Tour Mode, you'd have a soft, smooth outer rim, perfect for cruising. In Track mode, you can make it slightly thicker/thinner, with a grippier texture.
The technology can also go beyond these basic features. It can also identify a driver using something as basic as a key fob or seat memory. More advanced identifying techniques include facial recognition, galvanic skin response, heart rate, and temperature.
The patent filing also mentions the possibility of integrating multiple inflatable bladders of varying sizes into the steering wheel rim material. These bladders can be inflated/deflated using a control unit for a specific driver, driver state, driving style, and driving environment, which means the wheel can change shape, or thumb grips can be activated or deactivated depending on your needs.
The system relies primarily on user input, and GM mentions three main selections for each parameter. The diameter of the rim can be thin, medium, or thick, while the hardness gives you a spongy, medium, or rigid option. The available textures are smooth, fine, and coarse.
While it is user-based, it allows for a safety system to run in the background, automatically adjusting the steering wheel based on the driving environment. If it starts raining, for example, the adaptive steering wheel can adjust the texture from smooth to coarse, just in case of an emergency.
This is mighty impressive, but the main benefit here is pretty obvious. The system will accommodate different hand sizes, which is a bigger problem than you might think. Throughout the years, the steering wheel has evolved from a thin piece of wood to something required to house several buttons and functions.
As you can see in the opening image, the C8 has a relatively thick and chunky steering wheel, a common theme in performance motoring. BMW's M products also have thick rims. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has a thin rim, which is off-putting to some, and adored by others. GM's technology will allow customers to customize this profoundly personal element of a car.
If you share a car with more than one person in a household, you likely regularly adjust the seat to your exact position. Those of you who are lucky enough have power-adjustable seats with a memory function. This is the next step up from that, and we can't wait to see and feel it in action.