Ford has filed a patent for a removable steering wheel and pedals.
Purists are understandably pessimistic about the future of self-driving cars and how it will make driving less involving. This latest patent filed by Ford won't ease that fear as it prepares for the future. The Blue Oval is planning to start selling self-driving cars by 2021, and if this patent design filing is anything to go by, they will feature a removable steering wheel and pedals. In the meantime, they will still be necessary for safety purposes until the technology has been proven as Ford begins to trial its fully autonomous cars.
The automaker says this system would allow there to be a "steering wheel for development purposes, and enables the easy provision of a steering wheel as a customer-requested option." Yes, traditional driving controls could become an optional extra in the future. With this option, the cabin will have receiving niches for the steering wheel and pedals, with connecting and locking points allowing occupants to secure them in place. When not in use, a trim panel would conceal the connection points to not spoil the look of the dashboard. Of course, removing the steering wheel may raise safety concerns since this is where the driver's side airbag is located.
Ford will work around this by installing another airbag in the dashboard. A sensor would detect if the steering wheel is connected to determine which air bag to deploy during a collision. Interestingly, the removable steering wheel could still have a physical connection to the road by using a splined shaft. Steer-by-wire technology similar to what Infiniti uses in the G30 could also be an option. The pedals would adopt a similar system. Ford describes using fasteners and spring-loaded snap engagements to mount the accelerator and brake pedal. An electronic system is also being considered, which would use "an electric actuator operated by software programmed to simulate brake pedal resistance and restoring force."
Ford filed the patent last year on February 5, but the United States Patent and Trademark Office only published it on August 10, 2017. It's unlikely we'll see the system implemented into cars any time soon - at least not until fully autonomous cars are commercially available. It's a decidedly different approach to BMW, as the automaker recently assured enthusiasts that its cars will always have steering wheels.