Steering wheels which vibrate to signal when to turn are being tested as an alternative to screen-based sat-navs.

The research is being conducted by AT&T Labs researchers and collaborators at Carnegie Mellon University.

The prototype steering wheel has a set of 20 vibrating actuators which can fire in any desired pattern. A clockwise pattern is the signal for the driver to turn right, while an anti-clockwise pattern is the signal for the driver to turn left.

The initial aim of the project is to improve the delivery of GPS directions to the driver, but there are other safety applications such as warning drivers that a car is in their blind spot.

The new steering wheel was tested in driving simulators and found to provide safety improvements as drivers' eyes were more focused on the road.

Younger drivers were more attentive

Younger drivers (average age 25) showed a reduction of 3.1 percent in the amount of time their eyes were off the road while using the steering wheel in conjunction with "the usual visual and auditory methods of receiving navigation instructions".

There was no improvement for older drivers in the same test, but when the steering wheel was used with audio-only instructions they showed a four percent improvement.

The main hurdle to development of the prototype into a finished product is making it intuitive to use. AT&T researcher Kevin Li said, "An underlying thread of this research is, can we develop great haptic and tactile cues that users 'get' right out of the box?"

Until then we'll just have to stick with our SteelSeries Simraceway SRW-S1 (pictured).

From MIT Technology Review via Engadget