Heated steering wheels serve one purpose, and that is to keep our hands warm while gripping the steering wheel. While not exactly seen in cars locally, the feature is useful for those living in countries that experience very cold winters. Aside from warming hands, Jaguar-Land Rover thinks heated steering wheels can serve a more useful purpose.
Called the Sensory Steering Wheel Concept, it was developed in partnership with Glasgow University, allowing parts of the wheel to be quickly heated and cooled to warn drivers of obstacles. Jaguar-Land Rover says the feature can also be used to inform drivers when to turn, change lane, and even warn of an approaching junction ahead. The automaker claims the system would be particularly useful in bad weather with poor visibility.
The cues work on both sides of the steering wheel, indicating the direction for which the driver to turn by quickly heating or cooling one side. In order to make the driver feel the change of temperature, Jaguar-Land Rover says the steering wheel can warm or cool one side by up to 60 degrees Celsius. The driver can then adjust the temperature range for comfort as 60 degrees Celcius will probably be really hot.
Aside from acting as a warning, thermal cues can also notify drivers of non-urgent messages such as low fuel or point of interests. In the future, it could even be applied to paddle shifters to indicate handover from driver to autonomous control.
According to Jaguar-Land Rover's research, the Sensory Steering Wheel Concept allows drivers to be fully focused on the road. Visual and audio warnings could distract the driver, potentially leading into an accident. Using thermal cues would lessen the time drivers have to take their eyes off the road.