l Transportation and technology, driving wheel drives the new course

I recently drove a super-luxury Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, and even after spending a whole day driving it, I wasn’t able to use all the buttons on the steering wheel; It was so full.

From helping steer a car to steering it left or right, answering phone calls or even setting the speed, the steering wheel has come a long way. While my experience was on a Mercedes-Benz, even a Maruti Suzuki is not far behind.

For example, in the new Brezza, you can set cruise control speed, change radio channels, adjust speaker volume, mute all sounds, take or leave phone calls, and more Can give voice commands to computers – all using dedicated buttons on the steering wheel. CV Raman, Chief Technical Officer (Engineering), Maruti Suzuki India, said the steering wheel is so called because ‘steering the car’ was its only function. Over time, new functions were added but the name stuck. “It was a wheel that you turned to steer the car when it was moving. Then, the horn joined on the steering wheel,” he said.

“Over time, as new features were added to the car dashboard, some of these found their way onto the steering wheel. It was all for the convenience and comfort of the driver.” Safety, Raman said, was another important consideration for buttoning the steering wheel. “A car is safest when it is under the driver’s control, and the hands on the steering wheel ensure maximum control,” he said.

Today, most cars have a steering wheel with multiple buttons, and some luxury cars have an oval-shaped mini-computer that can also be used to steer the wheels! For example, in many Audi, BMW, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz cars, the steering wheel is a remote control for operating the giant interface (including the large screen) on the car’s dashboard.

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This functionality is also seen in cars by Tata Motors. In Tata cars, the steering wheel became multifunctional (initially with radio, infotainment and phone controls) more than a decade ago. Cruise control buttons were added to the next generation of vehicles in the last decade, followed by instrument cluster controls.

Mohan Savarkar, Vice President, Product Line, Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles, said that it is important to have both hands on the steering wheel while driving, and hence the steering wheel has been optimized to provide a user interface, which includes comfort and convenience controls. . within reach of the driver. “The shape, size, aesthetics, haptics and material of the steering wheel have also been optimized to improve the accessibility of these controls, enabling a convenient and safe drive,” said Savarkar.

But smart steering wheels have also raised demand for chips and integrated circuits, and because there is already a global chip shortage, this has led to longer waiting periods for cars. An automotive analyst said it was a complicated situation. “Consumers prefer to buy high-end variants that use more chips, and due to chip shortages, the waiting period for high-end variants is running into months,” he said.

Going forward, with the mass advent of electric cars, the shape and size of the steering wheel will change. We’ve already seen that in the latest Tesla Model S and Model X cars, in which the carmaker dropped the traditional circular steering wheel in favor of a yoke (the rectangular controls seen in some planes, race cars, or video games). ,

In the next decade or two, if Volkswagen is to be believed, the steering wheel may be missing. Volkswagen Group futurists believe that while personally owned cars are most likely to have steering wheels, self-driving cars are expected to move away from them. Volkswagen’s ID VIZZION, a concept car, gives a glimpse of what a car’s interior might look like in the future. The steering wheel is gone.

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Passengers sit in a living room-like space, in which they can sleep or watch the views outside. And if they want privacy, they can darken the windows, including past (a world where you can’t imagine a car without a steering wheel).

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