Tesla has rethought what a car should be on a number of fronts. As pointed out by Elon Musk last year, the future will be one where cars are delivered to customers without steering wheels.
But based on a new patent filing by the automaker, if you decide to stick with a steering wheel, it may come with a host of new features.
The new patent filing details how the new steering wheel in future Tesla vehicles may be interactive with multiple touchscreen controls, haptic feedback, and more.
As part of the interactive touchscreens, one thing you will be able to control is the gear selector, thereby removing the current gear stalk behind the wheel altogether. The touchscreens would also allow drivers to “select, update and/or navigate through a menu of controls.”
In addition to the touchscreen controls, the new steering wheel would be able to provide haptic feedback to the driver. It could even go a step further than that, and with proximity sensors be able to detect when a drivers fingers are approaching the interface, thereby causing the interface to provide feedback to the user.
The patent filing also mentions the possibility the steering could have RFID detection and NFC capabilities.
It is a bit strange that Tesla is pushing the design of a new steering wheel when autonomous driving and the need for one may be limited in the future. But according to the patent, they are already thinking about in their design.
“For example, when a vehicle supports autonomous driving, the inputs may include more inputs requiring more additional gestures. The inputs may access functionality that would be too distracting when driven by a human driver, even with driver-assist functionality, such as television or other display, or multimedia functionality. In embodiments, the input may be handwriting or other complex gestures.“
As with any technology patent, this steering wheel may never see the light of day.
The patent is 25 pages in length, and if you want to read the whole thing you can download it here (PDF). Here are a few of the drawings from the patent that illustrate how the steering wheel might work.