A new steering wheel that uses robotics to improve the wellbeing of ‘gig economy’ drivers has been developed by a team of researchers and designers at the Royal College of Art (RCA).
Using Uber as a case study, RCA designers found that Uber drivers’ mental health can often suffer due to isolated working and the high levels of concentration required with long hours of driving and navigating with the Uber interface. Similar concerns apply to commercial drivers around the world.
To address the mental strain described by Uber drivers, the designers created a soft robotic steering wheel that acts as a tactile navigation system. The device is made from a soft fabric and an inflatable component, and is easily attached to an existing steering wheel. Connected to the Uber navigation system, it sends signals to the steering wheel to indicate an upcoming turn. The surface of the steering wheel inflates to the right or left hand side before a turn and deflates after the turn, so the driver can safely navigate without looking at the GPS interface and, therefore, stay focused on the road.
Throughout the design process, the designers examined how people and technology can best work together in the future.
“The focus was on the future of work, and how humans and machines will work together,” explained Vali Lalioti, a member of the design team, speaking to Wired.
“Jobs will change, and driving in the future will be different,” she added. “So we are trying to use technology to support drivers going forward.”