Jaguar Land Rover has developed a sensory steering wheel developed that could help keep drivers’ eyes on the road – by using heat to tell drivers when to turn left or right.

According to a statement by the automaker, the research, in partnership with Glasgow University, has created a ‘sensory steering wheel’, parts of which can be quickly heated and cooled to inform drivers where to turn, when to change lane or to warn of an approaching junction. This could be particularly useful when visibility is reduced through poor weather or the layout of the road.

The technology has also been applied to the gear-shift paddles to indicate when hand over from the driver to autonomous control in future self-driving vehicles is complete. 

Driver distraction is a major contributor to road accidents around the world and accounts for 10 per cent of all fatal crashes in the USA alone*. Jaguar Land Rover’s research suggests thermal cues could be a way to keep drivers fully focused on the road.

The cues work on both sides of the steering wheel, indicating the direction to turn by rapidly warming or cooling one side by a difference of up to 6°C. For comfort a driver could adjust the range of temperature change.

Studies have shown** temperature-based instructions could also be used for non-urgent notifications, where vibrations could be deemed unnecessarily attention grabbing, for example as a warning when fuel is running low, or for upcoming events, such as points of interest. Thermal cues can also be used where audio feedback would be deemed too disruptive to cabin conversations or media playback.

Alexandros Mouzakitis, Jaguar Land Rover Electrical Research Senior Manager, said: “Safety is a number one priority for Jaguar Land Rover and we are committed to continuously improving our vehicles with the latest technological developments as well as preparing the business for a self-driving future. 

“The ‘sensory steering wheel’ is all part of this vision, with thermal cues able to reduce the amount of time drivers have to take their eyes off the road. Research has shown people readily understand the heating and cooling dynamics to denote directions and the subtlety of temperature change can be perfect for certain feedback that doesn’t require a more intrusive audio or vibration-based cue.”

The Jaguar Land Rover-funded research is part of a PhD study undertaken by Patrizia Di Campli San Vito at Glasgow University as part of its Glasgow Interactive Systems Research Section (GIST). 

Jaguar and Land Rover models already boast a wide range of sophisticated Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) designed to improve driver and vehicle safety, including the new generation Head-Up Display in the Range Rover Velar. The Velar also features capacitive steering wheel controls for common functions that combine with the Interactive Driver Display to help reduce driver distraction.

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