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Folding, retractable steering wheel could make tiny cars roomier


June 30, 2011

TRW Automotive is developing a folding, retractable steering wheel, that would make it easier to get in and out of small cars

TRW Automotive is developing a folding, retractable steering wheel, that would make it easier to get in and out of small cars

As small, ultra fuel-efficient or electric cars become more popular as urban runabouts, automotive designers are looking for more ways to maximize their interior space. One possibility: get rid of the steering wheel. Of course, you need a steering wheel for driving, but the engineers at Michigan's TRW Automotive are working on one that folds up and retracts into the dashboard when the vehicle is parked. They claim it would making getting in and out of the car considerably easier, particularly for elderly or disabled drivers.

The proposed wheel would have two handles that would lock in place when the car was being driven, but that would fold inward to reduce the wheel's area once the engine stopped. The entire steering wheel would then retract into the dashboard, creating more cabin space for a less awkward exit from the vehicle.

When the driver next got into the car and started the engine, the wheel would automatically deploy into the driving position. Different positions could be preset for different drivers.

TRW development manager Manuel Poyant believes that the retractable steering wheel could start showing up in cars within five years.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

To be accurate, that\'s a steering yoke, not a steering wheel. Plenty of concept cars have had steering yokes over the years, although most of them were non-functional. A joystick mounted on the center console is a simpler way to create more room for the driver. It would also be better than a yoke because it would create even more open space for airbag deployment and passenger deceleration.


Gadgeteer: The joystick was proposed a decade ago and I can\'t think of a simpler, more eloquent solution to increase roominess and reduce weight. Complete control is maintained. I guess it takes courage to make radical change, and buy it. But we will never be able to buy it if no one has the courage to build it.


Another lousy photo that shows nothing.



Joystick steering has been researched as far back as the 1950s. See the GM Firebird III concept car, for one. (By the way, that car makes George Barris\' 1966 Batmobile seem positively clunky.)


Gadgeteer is correct. A joystick makes more sense. Now more then ever with the trend towards drive-by-wire. Without a mechanical linkage, a steering wheel makes less sense other than for tradition. Volvo made one many years ago now, they claimed it was fastest through a road course than a steering wheel.


It looks that everybody forgets that real roads are not perfectly smooth and every bump or so will induce a shock to the yoke and alter the car's path, speed etc. A possible solution is a stick mounted on a two-axis gimbal, left-right for direction, front-back for speed; because it can only rotate therefore the shocks will not affect it.


Hollywood is going to love this. Just imagine; our hero is hitting the freeway at 100mph when... \"AAARGH!\" the steering wheel folds back into the dashboard!!! Wicked.

Doug MacLeod
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