Automakers are running out of places to put screens inside cars but German automotive supplier ZF is here to save the day. Through its passive safety division, it has figured out how to cram a display inside the steering wheel of the future. ZF Lifetec's design obviously keeps the airbag, but it's no longer deployed from the center of the wheel. Instead, it inflates from the upper rim.

Doing so has freed up real estate on the center of the steering wheel, making it ready for a "smartphone-like interface," according to ZF Lifetec. The company is thinking of putting a central screen or multiple touch displays. Doing so gives car manufacturers more freedom in designing a steering wheel without hampering safety.

The team behind this project explains it doesn't necessarily have to be an all-screen layout since it could be a hybrid setup by combining a rotary switch with tactile surfaces. Giving engineers more room to play with the center of the steering wheel would make it possible to install extra sensors in cars equipped with a semi-autonomous driving system. This hands-on detection, which lets the car know you’re still paying attention to the road, would bolster safety, says ZF Lifetec.

We've reached out to the company to find out whether it's possible to make a round steering wheel with this tech or if it must have a flat top. At least it's not a yoke. More importantly, what happens if the car is involved in an accident while the driver's hands are at the 12 o'clock position? Ideally, your hands should be at 9 and 3 or 10 and 2, depending on whom you ask. Hopefully, ZF will answer our inquiry because we've seen our fair share of drivers with both their hands on the upper rim.

1989 Pontiac Bonneville

Unless you're a Formula 1 driver who has to adjust many settings while racing, you really don't need a screen in your steering wheel. Some would argue there are other areas engineers should focus on rather than trying to reinvent the (steering) wheel. If automakers do go down this road, how about putting physical buttons instead? You know, like the Pontiac Bonneville had.

With a digital instrument cluster, an infotainment, an extra display just for the front passenger, and a head-up display, we have enough screens already. It's time to bring back buttons, or at the very least, avoid making everything accessible only through screens.

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