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In Brief: Designing a Car for the Ergonomics of Driving

By Norman Chan

And why we still use the steering wheel.

For all the new technology and interface points we're putting into the car, there are a few things about driving that just won't change. The next generation of cars may all have massive touchscreens, voice commands, and smartphone connectivity, but we'll very likely still be using the good old steering wheel and pedals to actually drive around. That's not to say alternative car interface paradigms haven't been tried before. ArsTechnica's Automotive Editor Jonathan Gitlin lays out the history of car interface experiments, including Ford's FX-Atmos, which was driven with a aerospace-inspired joystick. But the steering wheel endures--partially because of its analog feedback capabilities--regardless of where people actually put there hands on the wheel. And speaking of steering wheel design, this 2011 episode of 99 Percent Invisible discussed the strange phenomenon of our brains not actually being able to grasp the action of changing lanes without visualizing it in person. It's worth a listen. (And what about the steering wheel-free design of Google's prototype autonomous cars? Well, I wouldn't call that really driving at all.)