German engineers have developed a touch screen interface for a steering wheel that allows a driver to control the car’s functions via gestures on a thin (11mm) piece of acrylic. In addition to making these functions more convenient and accessible, researchers also believe that it will decrease accidents caused when drivers take their eyes off the wheel/road in order to change a song, turn on the AC, or look at a map.

The prototype, developed by researchers from several different German universities, could potentially replace many of the gauges that have traditionally been located behind the steering wheel in the dash. Its multi-touch screen is designed to identify gestures that correspond to certain car functions, most of which could be done using only the driver’s thumbs (keeping the hands on the wheel at all times). So, zooming in on a map or changing songs could be a matter of a couple of intuitive multi-touch gestures.

Future designs could also interface with head’s up displays that could be projected on the windshield, further reducing the need/temptation to take one’s eyes off the road. It could also interface with traffic updates and proximity sensors to warn drivers when it is especially important to be alert under certain driving conditions. And researchers believe that the airbag will deploy successfully by breaking the thin acrylic screen in the event of an accident.

Special thank you to JohnWPB for calling my attention to this interesting development. For more information, check out the original article here. Please leave comments below if you have any thoughts about this topic, and if any of you see developments that might be relevant to this site and blog-worthy, please feel free to PM me.