Honda has patented ‘haptic leather’ which can make everything a sensor, a switch or an interface. In typical legalese, the official title of the patent is “Haptic function leather component and method of making the same”
Hyundai recently shared their concept cockpit in an i30. Getting past the touchpad functionality for a second, it is possibly one of the ugliest steering wheels I have seen in a modern car. As stated in a Motor Trend article:
In 2018, Hyundai was already working on haptic feedback for steering wheels, once again on the i30Motor Trend – “Hyundai Envisions Steering Wheel Touchscreens”
Evidently, so was Honda.
In the Honda patent, the scene is set:
…In luxury vehicles, leather is generally applied as a top layer to components that may come in direct contact with occupants of the vehicle, such as interior panels, seats, and door linings. The main function of the topcoat of leather is for aesthetics and to provide a luxurious look to the interior of the vehicle. However, natural leather offers no functionality to the vehicle components. Accordingly, there is a need for an improved top layer for vehicle components.US Patent US20190077311A1
I’m not sure how many car owners have looked at a leather armrest or dash trim and thought “why doesn’t this offer some other functionality than looking good?”, but that is the joy of the wording in patents – you have to state a issue that you solve.
So, in summary, Honda has patented a method to ‘implant’ sensors, light sources and other electronic wizardry under the leather trim, in a way that is unnoticeable upon first inspection. They go to the length of stating:
” It will be appreciated that although visibility of the circuit xx in the functional layered assembly x may be inhibited or prevented by pigmented coating xx, the circuit xx is schematically depicted in FIG. x in order to indicate it’s arrangement”US Patent US20190077311A1
In layman’s terms, you can see it in the picture, but you won’t actually see it in real life, but they have to draw it so you can see where the electronics would go. In case you didn’t get that from the pictures…
What can you put under that leather trim?
Sensors to “sense pressure, temperature, proximity, location, speed, velocity, acceleration, tilt, motion, humidity, light, biometrics of a vehicle occupant, etc”
Switches, including “a membrane switch, or a piezoelectric switch”
Even light sources, including “luminescent light sources (e.g. electroluminescent, photoluminescent, mechanoluminescent light sources), and incandescent light sources. Illustrative examples of light emitter element (sic) include a light emitting diode (LED), an organic light emitting diode (OLED), or a photoluminescent or electroluminescent light source configured in a film or sheet”
Pretty much anything you want. Honda has been deliberately vague in its applications to give the patent the greatest coverage, and it is equally about the technique of producing this ‘haptic leather’ as the potential uses.
Not sure how intuitive it would be to use hidden switches in the steering wheel, and although Honda say it’s just an example, putting a light source to give you directions on your steering wheel doesn’t sound the most useful application of this patent.
Hopefully, in practice it will be less infuriating than most in-car controls…
What do you think? Great idea, or just another patent? Have your say in the comments below…