Self-driving vehicles look inevitable now, just like the move to fully electric vehicles does. But transitioning from cars we drive to cars we don’t requires overcoming a number of awkward hurdles. For example, what key features are removed from vehicles and when?
Ford is clearly thinking about these questions and coming up with answers. This is highlighted by a newly published patent the company filed describing a removable steering wheel and pedals meant for self-driving cars. The patent describes a system that allows both the steering wheel and the pedals to be attached or removed using a series of locking points.
By designing such a system, Motor1 suggests Ford is preparing for two key scenarios. The first is internal, and would allow Ford to install a steering wheel and pedals when testing out new self-driving tech in its cars. There’s a chance those tests could go wrong, so having a driver ready to grab the wheel and hit the brakes makes sense. When it’s perfected, there’s no need for further testing with a wheel/pedals present. In fact, they would probably have to be removed for crash tests.
The second scenario is more interesting. We are going to reach a point where driving yourself or letting the car do the driving is an option. Some individuals may want to keep driving while others don’t. Offering two versions of the same car to cater for this would be expensive. However, if you make the parts required for driving an optional extra, then only one car model needs to be offered and Ford can then ask for a little extra cash in return for a “drive yourself” option. Essentially, the steering wheel and pedals become an accessory just like the spare wheel: they are there in the car if you need them.
It seems like quite an obvious design when you really think about it, but there are a few details that need to be worked out. As well as a 100 percent reliable locking mechanism for the two removable parts, Ford needed to think about airbag placement. For example, when the steering wheel is attached the airbag in the wheel needs to be active, but when it’s detached a second airbag present in the dash should be active instead.