By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
What started as a deliberately absurd suggestion during a morning editorial meeting in the Cowboy State Daily conference room led to an almost as asinine nagging question:
Why hasn’t someone attached a keyboard to a steering wheel?
Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily’s longest-tenured reporter, Zoomed in from the road driving back to her home in Cody from Arizona and said a story she was working on would have to wait until she stopped.
Just type and drive at the same time, was the tongue-in-cheek response. Tape a keyboard to the steering wheel and multitask like a champ.
Of course, the suggestion was a joke that nobody took seriously.
But that spark from the back of the brain wanted to explore the idea a little more – specifically, why hasn’t anyone tried it before?
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
The obvious answer is also the most practical: Because it’s just too stupid to seriously contemplate. Who could legitimately believe grafting a full computer keyboard onto the steering wheel of a 6,000-pound chuck of speeding iron and steel is a good idea?
Turns out it’s this guy: Yuzhou Peng of Urumpqi, China.
Seems he had the idea a few years ago and, either by himself or with the help of an engineer, he invented the thing.
Birth, And Death, Of An Epic Idea
Peng apparently wanted to make the steering wheel keyboard mainstream, saying it could be the control center of your mobile office.
He thought so much of the idea, in fact, he started a serious crowdfunding campaign to raise money to develop the steering wheel keyboard and bring it to market.
He claims making a vehicle a “moving office” means people could work “anywhere on highway and internet freely.”
At least that’s the pitch on his Indiegogo campaign, which aimed to raise $10 million to make the keyboard steering wheel a real thing.
The campaign ran and closed having raised $0.
No Limits On Dumb
While not surprised nobody wanted to invest real money into developing the keyboard steering wheel, one Wyoming auto industry insider says there’s no shortage of strange ideas out there.
“No, this is the first time I ever heard about it,” Vince Bodiford, publisher of TheWeekendDrive.com, told Cowboy State Daily. “But there’s a long history of all this nonsense.
“It’s a remarkable thought that I profess has never come across my way before.”
Bodiford said he agrees trying to do regular office work while operating a moving vehicle is not only a bad idea, “it’s beyond ridiculous.”
He also said that the human imagination and proliferation of social media and YouTube encourage people to attempt such things just to see if they can be done.
That something is too stupid to believe anyone would try “is something we put in the rear-view mirror awhile back,” Bodiford said. “We’ve crossed into the absurd.”
Not As Far-Fetched As You’d Think
As more technology is integrated into vehicles, a full-sized computer keyboard isn’t far off from what’s already available, Bodiford said.
Most vehicles these days include multiple cameras and controls just about everything from around the steering wheel.
In 2021, BMW launched its iDrive feature, a device like a mouse pad that’s used to control all sorts of things in and around a vehicle.
“The BMW iDrive is basically a mouse pad that rotates in the center console right by the shifter,” Bodiford said. “Now we have different iterations of iDrive, lots of cars have it. You hit a menu button and bring up a menu.”
He also said that as self-driving technology continues to evolve, people doing full office-type work in their vehicles becomes more plausible.
To make a keyboard steering wheel work, “I think you’d have to do it with self-driving cars, with autonomous cars,” he said. “Then? Sure, type away. Write a novel if you want.”
It’s Also Illegal
Besides the obvious, operating a keyboard while driving is the ultimate example of distracted driving, which is illegal, said Byron Oedekoven, executive director for the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and a 28-year law enforcement officer.
He said if people think texting while driving is wrong and dangerous, a full-sized keyboard would be worse.
“I’m pretty sure the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would go ballistic over that for the same reason as texting,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
Drivers in today’s teched-out vehicles already have enough to distract them, Oedekoven said.
“There’s quite a bit of distractions out there, between parents trying to adjust movie levels for folks in the back and sorting through the control panel in the front,” he said.
Let The Ideas Flow
While dangerous and even a little frightening to contemplate, an idea being stupid hasn’t yet stopped people from pushing the boundaries of the ludicrous just to see if they can, Bodiford and Oedekoven both said.
While his motivation wasn’t to get more work done in his car, a YouTuber with the handle Outside Xtra modified his car to be operated with a video game controller.
He integrated the controller for a PlayStation 4 console into his Nissan GT. He posted a video of himself sitting in the driver’s seat operating the car on a closed track.
His goal? To see how well his video game-playing skills “translate to real life.”
More Safe Than Cellphones?
While some say keyboard steering wheels could be more dangerous that using cellphones while driving, at least one research team explored it as a safer alternative.
The October 2016 issue of Science Daily outlines research in Finland that aimed to find ways to make texting while driving safer. The solution was a combination of display and keypad that keep drivers from looking away from the road.
“The researchers intended to find a solution in which the driver would need to look at the keypad as little as possible and could keep eyes on the road,” according to the Science Daily report.
The solution there wasn’t a full-sized keyboard, but a smaller 12-key variation that uses predictive text input to help fill out words and phrases with less type. Coupled with projecting the text up on the windshield, and drivers can type and drive at the same time.
Still A Bad Idea
Even with innovations designed to keep people focused on the road, anything a driver does that’s not driving can be distracting, Oedekoven said.
Anything like the Finnish texting while driving study or the YouTuber’s experiment with a game controller “all would create a serious discussion about distracted driving,” he said.
Steering wheels may be the future for auto manufacturers in arranging clusters of fingertip controls, Bodiford said, but those will be a far cry from a traditional keyboard.
“Now they’re setting up how the controls will look at your eyes and see where your eyes are looking,” he said. “That’s the whole future, the instrument panel is going to be on the steering wheel.”
For now, we’ll have to be content to wait for Wendy to get off the road to write her stories.