TRW's folding steering wheel concept

TRW's folding steering wheel concept

Automotive design is set to undergo a radical transformation in the near future. Electrification and vehicle-to-vehicle technology are probably the first game-changers that come to mind, but there are others, too -- namely, America's aging population of Baby Boomers and the increasing number of people who live in crowded urban environments.

Last week, Ford announced some low-tech improvements to aid elderly drivers, like using bolder fonts throughout its interiors. But TRW Automotive is thinking bigger (or rather, smaller) with a new design for a retracting steering wheel that could help drivers get in and out of compact vehicles with greater ease.

According to a company press release, TRW's steering wheel is designed with smaller vehicles in mind -- the kind likely to be popular in cities. Although there's no video of the device in action, TRW says that it "features two retractable handles that close fully to create a smaller shape which then folds away into the dashboard". When the vehicle is restarted, the steering wheel deploys to exactly the same position it was in before. In fact, the system can save steering wheel position preferences for multiple drivers. 

TRW didn't announce plans to work with any particular automaker in developing this technology, but the company hopes to see it implemented within the next five years.

As interesting as it looks, we're not entirely sure about this device's future. We've seen similar concepts deployed on countless vehicles at auto shows, and for better or worse, they're among the first elements to get cut when cars are redesigned for full production. If it survives, though, we'll be first in line to give it a spin.