There's no denying that modern automobiles are becoming more packed with technology than ever. However, with the added convenience come consequences. Such systems can be difficult to navigate easily while in motion, and that can lead to distracted driving which is certainly dangerous for everyone on the road.
That's the motivation behind this space-age-looking steering wheel. Called the Origo Steering Wheel concept, it was designed by a Finnish-based consortium with the goal of keeping drivers' hands on the wheel at all times. It combines familiar, tactile, three-dimensional touch surfaces on the steering wheel in easy reach of thumbs. These surfaces can be connected to a wide variety of smart controls in the vehicle, allowing the driver to do everything from adjusting climate settings to activating turn signals and more complicated features that would normally require a touchpad – all without letting go of the wheel.
Gallery: Origo Steering Wheel
"The initial idea of the Origo steering wheel was to challenge the status quo of the existing steering wheel [Human-Machine Interface] and not just take the easy route of converting analog controls into digital versions," said Miika Heikkinen, lead designer for Northern Works, one of the companies in the consortium. "Our lives have become cluttered with information and overstimulated with choices, so we wanted to offer the driver clarity with our steering wheel concept and reduce functions and controls to just the bare necessities."
The innovative wheel concept hasn't gone unnoticed. It recently won a German Design Award 2021 from the German Design Council, focusing on the human-machine interface. Future applications for the wheel are unknown at this time, but with technology in automobiles seemingly unstoppable, it seems likely that at least some of the wheel's features will eventually show up in production models.
"We are all proud that this new, jointly developed HMI solution has drawn great interest and has been awarded with such a prestigious prize," said Juha Kokkonen, CEO of Canatu Oy. "The Origo Steering Wheel shows the value of re-imagining user experiences by integrating inspired design, innovative 3D touch surfaces, and leading-edge software."
The Origo Steering Wheel wins German Design Award 2021 for outstanding design quality
The concept steering wheel, developed by a Finnish automotive consortium, is named a Winner for Excellent Product Design – Human-Machine Interface
HELSINKI, VANTAA and OULU Finland, September 15, 2020 — The Origo Steering Wheel concept has received recognition from the German Design Council for outstanding design quality. The project was chosen as a Winner in the category of Excellent Product Design – Human-Machine Interface. German Design Awards is one of the world’s most highly renowned design competitions. High standards are assured by an international jury recognizing only projects that truly represent pioneering contributions to the German and international design landscape. The Origo Steering Wheel was developed within the Finnish automotive ecosystem, in collaboration between Canatu, Siili Auto, TactoTek®, Rightware, and Northern Works as a part of the Multimodal In-Vehicle Interaction and Intelligent Information Presentation (MIVI) project.
“We are all proud that this new, jointly developed HMI solution has drawn great interest and has been awarded with such a prestigious prize. The Origo Steering Wheel shows the value of re-imagining user experiences by integrating inspired design, innovative 3D touch surfaces, and leading-edge software. With the new Origo Steering Wheel, the driver can manage all key functions purely by thumbs without letting go of the steering wheel, minimizing distractions, and improving safety. By adapting the strengths of mobile device interaction patterns to driver controls, this team of Finnish companies has developed a solution that delivers convenience, style, and safety,” said Juha Kokkonen, CEO, Canatu Oy.
Transparent three-dimensional touch surfaces enable an intuitive HMI and enhance freedom by design. Only relevant information is displayed on-screen at any time to avoid overstimulation.
“The initial idea of the Origo steering wheel was to challenge the status quo of the existing steering wheel HMI and not just take the easy route of converting analog controls into digital versions. Our lives have become cluttered with information and overstimulated with choices, so we wanted to offer the driver clarity with our steering wheel concept and reduce functions and controls to just the bare necessities,” said Miika Heikkinen, Lead Designer, Northern Works.
“One way of overcoming the fear of new is to make it look familiar. Nowhere is this more true than in a car’s user interface, and the Origo concept does a superb job of incorporating new interactions into a familiar context,” said Väinö Leskinen, CEO, Siili Auto Oy.
While designing a minimalistic and intuitive HMI, the team wanted physical forms to be expressive, supporting the use of controls, something that the current touch screens and capacitive controls quite often lack. The final Origo design perfectly aligns physical controls with the digital UI, creating an intuitive and exciting user experience unlike anything seen on cars before.
German Design Awards council advances the design-oriented landscape by identifying unique design trends and rewarding the best entries across three main categories: “Excellent Product Design,” “Excellent Communications Design,” and “Excellent Architecture.” The 2021 competition attracted a total of 4,172 project submissions from 60 countries, and the international jury rewarded 955 participants with Special Mention, 362 with Winner, and 67 with Gold across 71 sub-categories. The winners will receive their prizes at the official award ceremony on February 19, 2021, as a part of the Ambiente 2021 trade show in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
The consortium partners have all brought their unique expertise to the project:
Canatu is providing its transparent 3D touch surfaces integrated on the steering wheel wings enabling design freedom and intuitive user experience.
Siili Auto designs and implements User Interface (UI) of the smart steering wheel. UI and the steering wheel physical form and innovate controls are seamlessly integrated to a unique user experience.
Rightware is providing its market-leading HMI software tools including Kanzi UI, Kanzi Connect, and Kanzi Maps to enable rapid design, prototyping, and development of intuitive interaction models for this new concept.
TactoTek® applies its Injection Molded Structural Electronics (IMSE™) technology to design and produce smart surfaces that include circuitry, touch controls and illumination in 3D injection molded designs.
Northern Works is the design supplier for the project responsible for the industrial design.
For more information on the Origo Steering Wheel concept, please see this animation and contact the founding consortium members Canatu, Siili Auto, TactoTek, or Rightware.