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Tesla has a new high-tech steering wheel with touchscreens and haptic feedback

Tesla wants to reinvent the wheel… the steering wheel, that is. The automaker is working on a new steering wheel-based user interface with a bunch of new features, including one replacing the gear stalk, a bunch of touchscreens, haptic feedback, and more, according to a new patent filing.

In order to change gear on a Tesla vehicle, you use a gear stalk attached to the steering wheel, which is uncommon in passenger vehicles other than trucks.

Now it looks like Tesla might be going a step further by removing the gear stalk altogether.

Tesla has filed a new patent for a new steering wheel-based user interface that includes touchscreens on each side and one at the bottom, which replaces the gear stalk, according to the images in the patent filing, as shown above.

They wrote in the filing:

The user interface of the steering wheel may additionally include indicators provided at a lower portion of the steering wheel indicative of a selected gear engagement of the vehicle. For example, the user interface may provide illuminated indications of engagement of Park, Reverse, Neutral, or Drive modes. Additionally or optionally, the steering wheel may include RFID detection and NFC activation functionality.

Here are a few more drawings from Tesla’s new patent application:

Tesla says that the interactions with the touchscreens can be reflected on the center console.

The automaker describes how the driver interacts with the new steering wheel:

By interacting with the user interface provided on the steering wheel, the user may able to select, update, and/or navigate through a menu of controls. Further, based on the gestures performed on and recognized by the user interface, the user may also receive feedback of the selections made with respect to the set or menu of controls. This interaction of the user may be manifested through gesture movements made directly on the user interface and/or based on indication of the user’s intention to interact with the user interface that may be estimated by ascertaining when the user’s digits approach the user interface. For example, through proximity sensors, the user interface may sense that the user’s digit is approaching a control manipulation functionality on the user interface, causing the user interface to provide feedback to the user.

In the application, Tesla also describes how the touchscreens can give haptic feedback.

Tesla gives some examples of the gestures on the pads to activate some functions and the feedback that it will give:

Tesla is also thinking ahead for when its vehicles will be able to self-drive without driver attention being necessary.

They are planning some features for when that comes:

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.
Felix Godard and Joris Aerts respectively designed and engineered the new steering wheel concept, according to the patent application.

Godard was a former Porsche Taycan designer that Tesla hired, and he was credited with the design of the Model 3 steering wheel.

He has since left Tesla for Lucid Motors.

Aerts is an electrical engineer who worked for Tesla for six years, but he also left just over a year ago.

As usual, keep in mind that Tesla, like other companies, sometimes seeks patents on technologies that will never end up in production vehicles.

Here’s the full patent application:

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Electrek’s Take

I like a lot of things about this. Especially the fact that it would enable more controls from the steering wheel, helping drivers keep their hands on the wheel.

We reported on how Tesla’s major update in December of last year is “all about keeping eyes on the road and hands on the wheel”.

This system would push the trend further.

However, I don’t really like the gear system on the wheel from a design perspective. I like a clean steering wheel design, and I think all the gear options would look crowded.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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