BMW has released an image of the new large polygonal steering wheel in its upcoming iNEXT electric crossover, which the carmaker says is “perfect” for switching between highly automated and active driving.

The all-electric iNEXT, due to enter production in 2021, will be BMW’s “new technology flagship.” Along with a curved display teased a few months ago, the steering wheel will be part of the car’s “pioneering” interior design.

BMW claims the racing-inspired steering wheel will offer a better view of the instrument cluster. The flattened top and bottom sections are also meant to make for an easier transition between driving modes. As BMW explains in its release:

The advantages of this geometry come into play in particular when switching from highly automated to active driving. As compared to a circular shape, this makes it much easier to recognise the steering angle based on the position of the steering wheel. The moment the driver re-takes control of the vehicle, they can detect the current steering angle instantly – both visually and by means of touch – so as to be able to continue travelling in the BMW iNEXT safely and supremely on the course already commenced.

The wheel also uses optical fibers in its side sections. Those fibers can give off colored visual signals that tell the user when automated driving functions are available, and to alert the driver to take control when needed. BMW has previously said the iNEXT will be designed for Level 3 automated driving.

BMW also claims the shape of the steering wheel allows for enhanced comfort while driving, and entering or exiting the vehicle.

The carmaker has shown off its iNEXT prototype in winter testing earlier this year, along with two other upcoming electric prototypes, the iX3 and i4.

Electrek’s Take

iNEXT is still a prototype at this point. So, with the production version (seems like always) two years away, this — and other features — are still subject to change, even if just slightly.

However, it’s clear BMW plans on pushing the vehicle in new technological directions. While it’s tough to say how much this steering wheel will actually aid a transition between automated and active driving, it’s understandable how the slightly elongated top section would at least provide for a clearer view of the instrument panel and perhaps some entertainment features?

Also it is interesting that BMW uses the “highly automated” terminology vs. Testa’s “Autonomous”.  Speaking of Tesla, it will be interesting if that Knight-Rider Roadster steering wheel makes it to production and if it will allow for autonomous transitions.

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