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That warm feeling as a left turn approaches: JLR’s research sensory steering wheel system. (JLR)

Hot new ‘hands-on’ turn in ADAS safety research

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) recently revealed novel research into a driver-safety aid: a sensory steering wheel rim that heats or cools on each side to warn of upcoming GPS-directed maneuvers—plus serves as an extra information source in low-visibility situations.

The company believes it even could be used in autonomous vehicles, changing the temperature of gearshift paddles, for instance, to indicate to the driver a successfully completed “hand-over” to the vehicle’s self-driving system. 

With discrete portions of the steering wheel heating or cooling over a 6-degree C (43-deg F) range, the safety research concept, created via collaboration with Glasgow University in Scotland, offers a subtle, less-distracting alternative to audio or vibration cues for the driver. Alexandros Mouzakitis, JLR’s electrical research senior manager, said, “Research has shown that 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.” 

Addressing driver distraction 
Citing a National Highway Transport Safety Admin. (NHTSA) 2017 published Traffic Safety Research Note, JLR stressed that driver distraction is a major contributor to road accidents globally, accounting for 10% of all fatal crashes in the U.S. The sensory steering wheel’s thermal cues, they believe, would support driver “out of cabin” awareness. 

Full details of the research, its practical applications and test-program specifics, have not yet been released—but specifically-heated areas presumably would require the driver’s hands to be placed at the internationally-accepted, clock-referencing recommended positions of ten-to-two or quarter-to-three. Also, roundabouts (traffic circles) with multiple exit possibilities would require very precise, positional warning.

Getting it right—even in close quarters
Many GPS systems will prompt audibly and on screen from a sub-500-meter (1640-ft.) distance when a right or left turn is required, with audible confirmation immediately before the maneuver should be executed. But sometimes, turning options may be only a few meters apart; the heated steering wheel would need to react rapidly to signal to the driver if it were the sole information source. Doubtless all that and more will be clarified as development progresses. Although heated steering wheels have become increasingly common, new cooling componentry would be necessary. 

JLR has close relationships with several universities and the sensory steering wheel research is being funded as part of a PhD study by Patrizia Di Campli San Vito at Glasgow University’s Interactive Systems Research Section. A further study, “Investigation of Thermal Stimuli for Lane Changes,” has been published by the university. 

Mouzakitis said: “Safety is a number-one priority for JLR and we are committed to continuously improve our vehicles with the latest technological developments, as well as preparing the business for a self-driving future.” 

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