It's a brave new world.
Have you ever played a racing game on your phone, something like Need For Speed No Limits, or Real Racing? The kind of driving game where you must enter the maddening world of tilt and zero feedback steering. Well, Ford is working on a project that could bring that kind of driving to roads in real life.
According to documents recently published by the US Patent and Trademark Office and first discovered by CarBuzz, Ford has been granted a patent for 'Non-Autonomous Steering Modes' which outlines the company's vision to allow users of autonomous cars to steer the vehicle via smartphone. The system would receive wireless inputs from the user device and apply them to the vehicle's front wheels in the same vein as the Tilt Racer app, which can turn any handheld smart device into a controller capable of interacting with racing simulators.
It all starts with the user request to steer the vehicle. From there, the computer determines the steering angle of the host vehicle and asks the user to choose between two available steering modes. Should you select 'First Autonomous Steering Mode' you would be asked to align your device with the vehicle's zero steering angle before you will be handed control. Presumably, this option will only be available when stopped.
From there, the vehicle would then be capable of taking direction from the user as determined by the accelerometer and gyroscope housed within the user's device. Together, they can sense movement, rate of movement, gravity, and angle at which the user's device is being held. So, for example, if the device is rotated 30 degrees left from zero, the computer would then direct the road wheels to a 30-degree steering angle.
The other option available is 'Second Autonomous Steering Mode'. In this case, you would be asked to align a virtual steering wheel shown on your device's display to the corresponding steering angle of the vehicle's front wheels. You would then steer by manipulating the virtual steering wheel with your finger via the touchscreen. All user inputs, in both First and Second Autonomous Mode, would be initiated using electric actuators because of the physical disconnect between operator and the vehicle's components.
Ford doesn't care what kind of device you use, just so long as it includes a processor, memory, a display, a touchscreen, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and communication capabilities. However, it should also be noted that this is simply an early version of what the company is working on for the future.
Ford says the document is intended to be illustrative only, and it anticipates the ideas presented in the patent will continue to evolve as the company continues to gain knowledge in this space. The times they may be a changin', but you can bet Ford will be crucified by seasoned automotive writers across the industry for the system's "lack of feeling", "numbness", and "on-center dead spot" which "becomes prevalent when driven at the limit." Maybe you should get out and enjoy that Mustang GT while you still can.