Since the dawn of the smartphone, we've pretty much been accustomed to the concept of touchscreens. We even look for them in cars in the form of digital radio displays and infotainment systems. But Hyundai reckons then can throw in yet another touchscreen or two in cars; on the steering wheel to be precise.

Yes, Hyundai wants to reinvent the steering wheel by putting screens on them, and they call it the Human-Machine Interface Virtual Cockpit concept. As a matter of fact, Hyundai has been working on this technology since 2015 and the steering wheel you see now is already in its fourth iteration. So, why are they doing it?

For Hyundai, it seems that having too many buttons in the car could be too distracting for drivers. With that, they believe that touchscreens are the solution as they can reduce the physical button count. Aside from that, they are also confident that replacing the rocker switches and buttons with two touch panels on the steering wheel will make the controls more intuitive.

Hyundai wants to reinvent the steering wheel...literally image

As for the interface itself, the screens on the steering wheel change depending on the current instrument cluster menu display, as well as the current driving situation or condition. Like a smartphone, the layout of the said screens are customizable and can even have displayed “shortcuts” to suit the preference of the driver. The display icons on the steering wheel can be changed via the infotainment system. All in all, it's a novel idea.

But is it a good one? Now, touch panels aren't an entirely new thing in automobiles. Just take a look at Honda's approach to their automatic climate controls and volume controls. Those use no buttons and knobs, and rely on sensors to activate. Sure, it gives the dash a cleaner look, but people's reception towards it has been mixed. After all, there are some who still prefer the tactile feel of real buttons. Others would argue that a touch screen or touch pad isn't as responsive as a buttons, and as the saying goes, 'why reinvent the wheel'?

It isn't a bad idea altogether, though. Hyundai's intention is to avoid cluttering the vehicle with buttons all over the place. With the screens having the capacity to function as several different buttons, it can potentially make interaction with the vehicle more flexible and efficient. If Hyundai can make the system work without the hitches and glitches of the touch pads of today, then perhaps, they could set a new trend in vehicle ergonomics for tomorrow.