The British marque takes a step closer to fully autonomous vehicles.
Bentley has submitted a patent filing that is bound to excite technology geeks, although somewhat more traditional drivers of a Bentley Flying Spur are unlikely to be as impressed. The invention is for a retractable steering system specifically for autonomous vehicles, because really, who needs a steering wheel when the car is doing all the driving by itself? With even mainstream manufacturers like Hyundai aiming to have a fully autonomous vehicle by 2022, Bentley's latest innovation reimagines how these vehicles will be controlled.
Shared by a user called SilverBullet on the Cybertruck Talk forum, the design features a pod-like structure with steering grips that can retract beneath the dashboard. These grips, in turn, feature triggers for the throttle and brake. It sounds distinctly like something out of a new-age Batmobile.
The patent was filed via the United Kingdom's Intellectual Property Office, and it describes a "vehicle with [a] laterally stowable steering control unit." The basis for the design is sound - even though autonomous vehicles are still being developed and fine-tuned for use on public roads, when they're operating autonomously, the cabin can be configured with more flexibility. In this case, the whole steering control unit can be moved out of the way.
The patent also describes the possible stowage of the steering assembly in the door. In figure 1, the steering assembly is shown in an extended position, while figures 2 and 3 provide a view of "a side wall region of the cabin" where the unit can be stowed when not in use. Items labeled "26" in Figure 3 are the handgrips of the unit, effectively functioning as a regular steering wheel rim. Figure 8 is a perspective view of the entire unit when in its operative position.
Bentley goes on to explain the implementation of a steer-by-wire system, along with the application of torque to the steering wheel which will "simulate feedback forces from the steered road wheels." The goal here is to provide a similar level of feedback attained from a conventional steering system, the irony being that modern steering racks are more devoid of feel than ever before.
Clearly, Bentley is steaming ahead with working towards a fully autonomous vehicle, even as rival luxury brand Rolls-Royce claims to not be invested in the technology unless it is truly effortless for the customer. Although Bentley's stowable steering control unit appears ahead of its time, we'd still love to see this sci-fi piece of tech in action.