When cars were first invented, an intention to change the direction of travel was often simply indicated by pointing one’s arm either left or right. As cars got more sophisticated and fitted with things like roofs and windows, that wasn’t really a suitable way to do this anymore. So, the turn signal was invented (BMW drivers, you can skip this part).
For probably as long as anyone can remember, the indicators have been operated with a lever switch next to the steering wheel. In the olden days, the click-clack noise we associate with this function was generated mechanically when the magnetic relay was switching on and off to make the light bulbs blink.
These days, the noise is artificial, but the way we operate the turn signal is still the same—until now. A patent filed by Volkswagen in Germany hints at a future where we might be operating more functions on our cars without having to lift our fingers or hands off the steering wheel.
Placing some buttons in the center of the steering wheel is nothing new, but this patent, which was filed last year but only recently listed by the German Patent and Trademark Office, goes one step further.
Under document DE102022200086A1, the automaker is proposing a steering wheel on which operating elements are situated in the ring of the wheel where your hands grip it. It then goes on to describe how such a layout could be used to control functions such as the turn signal and the headlights.
It describes two sets of buttons on the left and right sides of the wheel. According to the published document, to activate a function, the first button must be held down until the second button is selected.
For example, the first button is for the car’s lights, and the second button will determine what light—low beam, high beam, fog lights—is activated. Or the first button could be for the turn signal, and the buttons on the other side then determine if the left or right one is activated. All inputs have to be done within a certain time frame, or the function will not be activated or deactivated.
It kind of makes sense, and there is at least potential for something that, if implemented right, could improve road safety by allowing drivers to keep their hands at the wheel and eyes on the road, but whether it can be made user-friendly and easy enough to understand is the question.
The company is citing several similar inventions in its patent submission, including one from Daimler-Benz, which indicates that this idea was worked on before. If VW will be the one to make it go mainstream remains to be seen. In all likelihood, we will see this function in an upcoming concept car, and then maybe in production vehicles at some point in the future.