As small, ultra fuel-efficient or electric cars become more popular as urban runabouts, automotive designers are looking for more ways to maximize their interior space. One possibility: get rid of the steering wheel. Of course, you need a steering wheel for driving, but the engineers at Michigan's TRW Automotive are working on one that folds up and retracts into the dashboard when the vehicle is parked. They claim it would making getting in and out of the car considerably easier, particularly for elderly or disabled drivers.

The proposed wheel would have two handles that would lock in place when the car was being driven, but that would fold inward to reduce the wheel's area once the engine stopped. The entire steering wheel would then retract into the dashboard, creating more cabin space for a less awkward exit from the vehicle.

When the driver next got into the car and started the engine, the wheel would automatically deploy into the driving position. Different positions could be preset for different drivers.

TRW development manager Manuel Poyant believes that the retractable steering wheel could start showing up in cars within five years.