How This Ugly Thing Might Fix Even Uglier Car Navigation Systems

In-car navigation systems can suck. This thing might be one of the solutions.

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This mangy circle of foam and wires does not look like much. But it's AT&T's idea to fix part of the problem with in-car navigation systems, which are terribly designed and confusing at their worst, and terribly distracting at their best. It's a haptics-enhanced steering wheel. It vibrates.

But the buzzing tells you things. If you need to turn left in 500 feet, it'll slowly start vibrating in a counter-clockwise direction (the direction you need to turn the wheel), vibrating faster and faster as you get closer to where you need to make the turn. No grating robot voice. No staring at a 5-inch screen trying to pick out which purple line you should veer onto when your eyes should be on the road. Just a subtle signal, "Hey, this is where you should turn."

This prototype wheel is built with the same kind of vibrating motors found in your phone — but they're even cheaper — so it's the kind of technology that's easy enough to implement you could actually imagine it being built into cars as a standard thing in the not-too-distant future.

It may sound too simple, a little too obvious. But that's what the best kind of technology often is. It's so "obvious" it's practically invisible, and you take for granted the fact that it even exists.