A smarter steering wheel technology – New Electronics

New sensor technologies and interfaces are being developed that will enable automakers to create more intelligent steering wheels that will be capable of monitoring a vehicle’s driver and enable cars to call for help or even during an emergency steer a vehicle to safety.
For drivers, how they grip and move their hands on the steering wheel can be used to interpret situations and the health of the driver – have they fallen asleep or are they suffering from some form of medical condition – can also be determined.
In2tec, a UK technology solutions provider and a specialist in sustainable electronics and smart human machine interfaces (HMI), has unveiled what it describes as a game-changing steering wheel technology demonstrator for designers and engineers in the automotive space.
According to In2tec, its steering wheel demonstrator showcases the opportunities provided to HMI applications via the incorporation of the company’s flexi-hybrid technologies.
Building on the latest in sustainable flexi-hybrid technology and underpinned with highly recyclable electronic assemblies, the low-profile steering wheel utilises advanced and patented flexible electronics that address function, aesthetic, and packaging constraints, in order to showcase ground-breaking possibilities in vehicle control systems.
According to Neil Armstrong, Group Managing Director, In2tec, “Using the latest in Smart HMI, touch technologies, and 3D conformable circuit boards, we have developed a flexible electronics solution that, we believe, will transform the future of automotive manufacture and design.
“The In2tec technology demonstrator enables us to share what this next-level system capability can offer OEM and Tier 1 suppliers. Crucially, it also encompasses highly recyclable electronic assemblies thanks to our flexi-hybrid technology and low carbon footprint recycling processes.”
The design elevates existing capabilities like capsense with the integration of Hands-Off-Detection (HOD)/ Hands-On-Detection functionality and dynamic monitoring of the heart rate, which futureproofs the wheel’s capabilities in line with existing and next-generation safety and legislation requirements.
In2tec’s flexi-hybrid technologies allow the integration of interface solutions like proximity detection and haptic technologies within ergonomic designs that will help to transform driver experience, feedback, and comfort.
Utilising an ultra-thin complex curve construction built around flexible electronic circuit assemblies, the wheel shape includes a level of concave and convex surfacing not realisable with rigid or semi-rigid printed circuit technologies, such as those implemented using current standard technologies.
Moreover, In2tec’s application of flexible electronic assemblies allows a more free-form approach to the shape of the whole wheel.
As a consequence, the complex 3D shapes allow for sensors, and the user input interface to seamlessly fit within the complex and limited space within the steering wheel assembly.
This means every area of real estate can be utilised, while significantly reducing both profile and weight.

Curved LCD display
The low-profile OLED hi-definition LCD display is curved, to provide an ergonomic and immersive experience and allows details to be presented to the driver in a non-cluttered manner.
The display is designed as an always ‘up’ LCD display ensuring information remains vertical for ease of use in real-world driving conditions even when the wheel is turned.
Both vehicle and driver data can be displayed as it can collate and present information like grip-slip and G-force, with driver’s heart rate and pulse trace information that are gathered through the sensors built into the steering wheel. Integrated with the driver awareness functions, through an inbuilt micro camera, it provides the hub for driver safety management systems as well as driver-vehicle setting preferences linked to driver recognition.
Accordingly, as well as identifying the driver via recognition technology upon vehicle start, and automatically setting driver preferences, it looks at their behaviour and attentiveness when driving.
With the space reduction gained, an LED lighting guide has been integrated along the top portion of the wheel to safely communicate the vehicle’s functional state in the driver’s peripheral vision. This innovative light bar is a ‘Secret-til-Lit’ integrated technology which provides visual feedback only when needed, and so minimises driver distraction. It communicates rev limits, over-speed warnings, left/right vehicle indicator alerts via diffused ambient light, with output through an array of individually addressable RGBW LEDs.
Positioned at the top of the wheel the LED light bar has been located to provide critical visual safety alerts for driver awareness including driver Hands-On/Hands-Off status.
Along with the Secret-til-Lit technology integrated into all user interface capsense buttons, the buttons have inbuilt proximity detectors. This allows them to go to half-light when the driver’s hand hovers over them, until then, the buttons are only visible by their surface shaping.
In employing capsense technology, the buttons’ graphics fully illuminate driver-relevant information on contact, so only when needed. This means the wheel remains uncluttered to minimise driver distraction.
e-paper graphical displays
A further feature includes the integration of ultra-thin e-paper graphical displays on the gear and clutch shift paddles, which provide operational status information on current gear selection, and indicate the need to change gear. The low energy e-paper has the benefit of retaining the displayed image, even when no power is applied. These are integrated using robust connections provided by In2tec’s patented flat shielded twisted pair communications technology.
The wheel also includes a vehicle start-stop capacitive slider function and integrated ultra-low profile thumbwheel technology for easy access to the menu and infotainment options.
Commenting Dr. Mark Hudman, Development and Engineering Director, In2tec, said, “In2tec has a strong history of delivering innovation to the automotive industry. We want to push the boundaries further by redefining the driver experience while building on the latest in connectivity, safety, security, and sustainability.” He continued, “Our sustainable flexible electronics solutions have allowed In2tec to move beyond what is currently achievable in automotive design with traditional methods. Our Smart HMI steering wheel technology demonstrator shows the incredible possibilities for engineers and designers, using our advanced and patented electronics for design, functionality, and style.
“Our highly recyclable flexible and flexi-hybrid electronics technologies include our commitment to providing materials, design models, and manufacturing methodologies that allow a truly circular economy and a positive impact towards achieving Net Zero Carbon Emissions.
“ReUSE provides substrates, circuit tracks, and component bonding systems that can be fully unzipped using organic solvents, significantly reducing the energy and high costs of manufacturing and recycling.”
In2tec specialises in the design and manufacture of sustainable flexible electronics and Smart HMI solutions for a broad range of applications that extends across all sectors that seek interfaces.
This technology demonstrator shows the opportunities for automotive designers in consideration of in-vehicle electronic interfaces, but moreover it also showcases the company’s sustainable flexi-hybrid technologies and what it is capable of offering any application for HMI.

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