Once cars are able to drive themselves, drivers—er, occupants—shouldn’t need steering wheels to control them.
Yet when BMW teased a new picture of its planned self-driving, electric iNext SUV last month, the photo showed nothing more than a steering wheel—which itself is not even round.
BMW says that in the iNext the driver is no longer required to take care of the task of driving but can still actively take command at any time. When drivers need to take over from the automated system, the off-center octagonal wheel will help drivers identify where it’s pointed.
With the hub below center, it leaves more room for those in the driver’s seat to slide in and out—and potentially to open a book or boot up a tablet in their laps. The company says the large opening at the top will also make it easier to see the gauges, although it’s not really clear what they’ll need to see when the car is driving itself.
BMW says the design was inspired by racing cars. It’s flat at the top and bottom with curved hand rests at the sides. Fiber optics in the wheel will illuminate sections in different colors to indicate when the car can drive itself and when drivers need to retake the “wheel.”
BMW Vision iNext concept
The iNext is a large electric SUV that is scheduled to debut in 2022 as one of the most advanced cars in BMW’s new round of 13 electric vehicles expected to debut by 2023. When it arrives it could be known as the i5 or the i7.
As BMW’s first planned self-driving car, the company experimented with lounge seating and other new interior ideas for the iNext concept car.
BMW curved display in iNext SUV
Last month, the company teased pictures of the car’s curved touch-screen display perching on the edge of the dashboard like the center screen of the Tesla Model 3.
It’s designed to mimic the latest curved EV screens for more seamless entertainment while on the road. The touch screen will also monitor trip parameters and let drivers know when they need to take over and when they can let the car do the driving.
With all this new technology, the iNext may be on track to become BMW’s first “ultimate riding machine.”