General Motors reinvents the steering wheel – and it moulds to your hands

Steering wheels containing a gel-like substance are being designed to better fit all hand sizes big and small.

Anyone who has complained their steering wheel wheel was too big or too small, too skinny or too fat, has good news from General Motors.

The US car giant has just patented a steering wheel system fitted with a tiny fluid bladder to allow it to mould to the size and shape of any hand.

There is no plan yet for production, but the move points to new possibilities for the old-school steering wheel, at a time when some car makers are experimenting with gaming-style controllers and autonomous vehicles without a wheel at all.

The patent application, first reported on the GM Authority website, includes details of variable shapes for the wheel rim and differences in its overall circumference.

It is intended to be adjustable to cope with different hand and finger sizes, as well as grip strengths.

Fitting a fluid bladder inside the wheel, linked to a pump to change the pressure inside the rim, could also vary the shape, hardness, and texture of the rim.

The size and shape of steering wheels has changed massively over the past 100 years, with motorsport-inspired designs – Ferrari now includes the starter button and warning lights for engine revs – and button-loaded luxury wheels becoming commonplace on production cars since the start of the 21st century.

The biggest change was triggered by the introduction of airbags and the need to keep a driver’s hands and arms out of the way of an exploding airbag during a crash.

It was traditional practice for learner drivers to be taught a ‘ten-to-two’ hand position on the wheel, putting both of their hands at the top of the wheel, but that has changed.

A ‘quarter-to-three’ approach is now considered to be safer – moving the driver’s forearms out of the path of an airbag explosion – and some brands are shaping wheels with cut-outs and designing the spokes of the wheel to guide the driver’s hands to a comfortable slot in the correct position.

Some German performance cars – including BMW M and Mercedes-AMG models – now have much fatter rims on their steering wheels, but there are variable shapes and thicknesses in different parts of the wheel to combine highway comfort with the grip and control needed for twisty roads.

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