Much of the technology developed for new cars has to do with safety, and that's for good reason -- in 2017, distracted driving killed 3,166 people in the US. Like other manufacturers, Jaguar Land Rover hopes it can prevent fatalities, but the way it wants to get there is unique. The company has developed a steering wheel that heats up to give drivers signals, like when to turn or that they're approaching an intersection. According to Jaguar, the "sensory steering wheel" will help drivers keep their eyes on the road.
Developed in partnership with Glasgow University, the technology rapidly heats or cools different areas of the wheel. When you need to change lanes, for example, the left side of the wheel might become hot. Jaguar says that could be especially helpful in low-visibility driving conditions. It might also be useful when other alerts, like vibrations or audio feedback, are "unnecessarily attention grabbing," the company says. For instance, the wheel might heat up to let you know you're running low on fuel.
It's certainly a novel approach to delivering in-car notifications, but it's hard to say if it will be successful. After all, if a distracted driver has one hand on their cell phone, they might not notice the change in temperature. And while it could wake drivers who are about to doze off, it also seems like a way to lull them to sleep. If this doesn't work out in the steering wheel, Jaguar has also applied the technology to the gear-shift paddles. In future self-driving cars, it could be used to indicate when the transition from driver to autonomous control is complete. It'd be pretty clear that the car is in charge when it heats up to the point that you reflexively pull your hand away.