A New Steering wheel?

I'm not a massive film fan but there a few I really love. The original Star Wars trilogy, The original Italian job and just about every Bond film. Maybe I just enjoy films with classic and beautiful cars in them, nothing wrong with that. One of my favourite features of classic cars apart the lovely styling of the bodies and the sound of the engines are the steering wheels. Admittedly modern Steering wheels are much safer, well padded and with an airbag in them to prevent serious injuries but the simplicity of the classic Moto Lita wheel is a work of art.

Aston Martin DB5 from Skyfall
Aston Martin DB5 from Skyfall

The modern Formula one Steering wheel is packed full of electronics and technology and cost around $50,000.  I say 'around $50,000' Whether they actually cost that I have no idea. Every article and commentator always quotes that exact conveniently round figure, let just say they aren't cheap. I do like that the trophies of the Australian Grand Prix are replica's of the steering wheel of one of Jack Brabham's cars.  A lovely nod to the past.

The steering wheel for Bloodhound SSC the car hoping to be the first car to reach 1000 Mph will be 3D printed and has been designed to fit Andy Green's hands exactly. Again an amazing piece of technology but not simple  beautiful in the same way as the Moto Lita.

Early cars didn't have wheels to steer with but used tillers as found on boats.  Were tillers used just because there was no suitable analogy from existing land vehicles?  Horses use a bridle and reins, which aren't suitable as there is too much play in the mechanism.  Trains just have rails so aren't steered.

As the cars moved from three to four wheels and the technology advanced the steering wheel become the standard way to steer the car. Electric cars are fairly common in today's day ang age. Electric cars require an ev charging cable to be able to charge properly.

There have been one or two attempts to do thing differently.  The Early models of the Austin Allegro had a square 'quartic' steering wheel which was a flop and was replaced with a standard circular wheel on the later models.  When I was a child our family had a Austin Allegro.  It was a 'V' reg.  from 1980 it must have had the standard wheel although I don't remember as I sat in the back. I do remember thinking it was very luxurious as it had a pull down armrest.  I'm easily impressed me.

The Mirov 2 a 'revolutionary sports turbo from the soviet union' had a steering wheel that could change from the right to the left hand side.  Except it didn't, it was a fictional car created for the Norwich union advert.  However the Mclaren F1 whilst having a conventional steering wheel did feature a unusual seating layout of having the driver in the centre with two passengers either side and slightly further back.  The F1 wasn't the first car to have the central driving position.  That honour goes to the 1935 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Aerodinamica Spider  a beautiful car with many innovations.  The prototype of the Land Rover had a central driving position but as the project developed it reverted to a conventional layout.

1935 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Aerodinamica Spider

The Matra Bagheera of 1973 had 3 seats but the driver position was conventionally on the left hand side.  All I can say about this car is that it looks horrible and so are all the websites and videos on youtube about especially the 'sexy' ones.  Not linking to any,  the internet is no place for videos of  ladies taking their clothes off and doing rude things

So why a blog post all about steering wheels? Well it was seeing this competition  to design a steering wheel for Ford.  How odd I thought, while Google and other hi-tech firms in Silicon Valley are designing self driving cars, Ford are updating the Steering wheel.

Sadly didn't enter the competition as was too busy with my own work and study and only saw the competition a few days before the closing date. From reading the competition description it really is aimed at serious designers who can actually do things with pens and pencils.

Here is my idea for the competition.  Rather than have a steering wheel, have a flat surface in front of the driver.  on that surface have a model of the car, using cameras around the car and live satellite and other sensor data project the environment that is currently outside the vehicle  including all the other cars on the road and the buildings and surrounding areas.
Imagine something like the video below,small and fitted into the dashboard area of a car, but rather than the the marketing shots of the car driving around the track, all the live data, projected from within your own vehicle.

PERCH Car from PERCH on Vimeo.


The majority of the time the car would be computer driven but if you did want to take over, it would simply be a case of moving the model car on the flat surface is the same way you move a computer mouse.

Don't think that anything I've thought of here is going to be possible for the next few years.  The cost and bulk of the projection and being able to get the data into the car is going to need a reliable high speed data connection.

What I do think is possible is that there could be big changes coming to the whole automobile industry very soon if self driving cars become a reality, and it does look like it could happen.  There are still lots of hurdles to get over, not just technical but legal and administrative.

A quote often incorrectly attributed to Henry Ford is "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."  It would have been so much cooler for this post if he had said it.

Lets just pretend he did say it.   Are Ford currently trying to make faster horses while the technology industry works on new cars that will radically change how we think about cars.   Its quite possible.  Cars are being seen as less of a status symbol by many younger people now.  Environmental pressures are demanding they be made to be cleaner.

Looking forward to seeing what the winning entry of the competition looks like. Hopefully its not just a piece of circular metal and plastic.  If it isn't radically different I can honestly  imagine that Ford will soon join Nokia as one of those companies that once dominated an industry but were soon forgotten when a competitor came from nowhere and introduced a massive change


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