Ford Found a New Way To Improve EV Efficiency, It Helps a Little

Ford Steering Wheel 6 photos
Photo: Jessy Smith on Unsplash
Ford's new steering wheel heating systemFord's new steering wheel heating systemFord steering wheelFord steering wheelFord steering wheel
Electric vehicles (EVs) are in a tight race right now. Those zero-emissions cars that don’t benefit from having well-thought-out battery packs and aerodynamics on their side must come with alternatives that save energy. Ford has found one: the heated steering wheel. Here’s how it plans on making it better for your average EV.
EVs must be efficient. There’s no question about it. If a manufacturer decides it wants to make these kinds of cars, then it has to take into account ways to improve how energy is consumed. While it may seem trivial to find a new way of heating your steering wheel, Ford is heading in the right direction. There’s been a lot of progress made with batteries, but they’re still heavy. Until we see solid-state cells working and surviving stress, different types of current chemistries are all we have. With Lithium-Ion being the most popular type of car batteries and other types of EVs like fuel-cell ones being unfeasible for now, it’s clear that work must be done somewhere else to save as much energy as possible.

That’s also one of the reasons why you’ve seen the Mercedes-Benz EQS or the Audi A6 e-tron Concept looking a bit weird. These cars are striving for the same goal: efficiency. Unlike Ford’s approach, German automakers are very conscious of aerodynamics.

But the Michigan-based automaker has its own plans, as the attached United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent filing shows.

Most vehicles come with heated steering wheels. The electric unit used for this action comes as a heater mat and/or extends over the entire surface of the rim. Usually, the process starts from the spokes that connect the center of the steering wheel with the rim and gradually extends to cover the entire part.

Ford is looking to change this inefficient process by adding a plurality of individual zones that can be electrically heated when the function is active and only on the areas that are being touched by the driver. This is achieved with the help of capacitive sensors.

These patch-like zones include a controller that’s able to make use of the circuitry in each individual zone. It starts operating as soon as the driver puts his hands on the steering wheel. If the hand is removed, then it stops.
You may be inclined to think that this system won’t guarantee a heated steering wheel that can work as advertised. Ford has thought of that and added a setting that learns where the driver keeps its hand the most. Data is gathered from other sensors, and if the weather conditions allow it, it can pre-energize the “patches” so they can work at full capacity once a touch has been detected.

It’s not much, but it’s honest work!
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Editor's note: Gallery shows snapshots of an USPTO filing and other illustrative pictures of what the final product might look like.

 Download: Ford's New Heated Steering Wheel Patent (PDF)

About the author: Florin Amariei
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Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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