The folks at website Motor1 came across a particularly intriguing Ford patent published recently: removable driver controls – such as a steering wheel, throttle, and brake pedal – for self-driving cars. The wheel and pedals could come in handy “for development purposes,” the patent says, by allowing its engineers to take manual control of the car when needed. It could also pave the way for the driver controls to be included in future car sales “as a customer-requested option.”
The removable nature of the control devices makes it likely that both the wheel and the pedals would be drive-by-wire – that is, they would control their respective equipment electronically rather than mechanically. The problem with that is, as of yet, there are no authentic, natural-feeling steer-by-wire systems. The technology could improve with time, however – or, Ford says, the wheel could utilize a mechanical connection by interfacing with a splined shaft or universal joint.
Both the steering wheel and the dashboard would have a frontal airbag for the driver, and in the event of a crash, the vehicle would deploy one or the other depending on whether the wheel is detected.
With self-driving cars now being more a question of “when” than “if,” it’s good to know that automakers are thinking ahead about how to accommodate customers who prefer to keep control. Granted, it’s possible that, should this technology ever see the light of day, Ford would opt to use it solely for development purposes.
You can see the patent yourself at USPTO.gov.