As the technology for self-driving cars improves, vehicles are acquiring the capability to drive from one location to another without inputs from the driver (like the steering wheel). Many automakers are waiting for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to allow new vehicles without the steering wheels and pedals to run on the road.
But, according to Ford, “an inability to manually steer the vehicle can result in placing test drivers at higher risk, as it would be more difficult to moderate or abort such maneuvers made under autonomous control or make such maneuvers with an unfamiliar electronic control such as a joystick. Further, some vehicle owners may prefer the familiarity of being in a vehicle having a steering wheel, or a steering wheel may be needed to allow a vehicle occupant to assume control, even if the steering wheel is inactive in an autonomous mode.” Therefore, Ford has come up with a novel concept – by providing the steering wheel and pedals as removable attachments.
According to a patent application (available below) from Ford, the steering wheel may be moved between an installed driving position and a stowed position. A steering wheel module is formed to fit within a receiving niche. When the module is removed, it is replaced with a filler module. The filler module is consistent with the overall aesthetic look of the dashboard and the cabin. The filler module also houses the driver side airbag, which generally exists in the steering wheel. A sensor will dictate which airbag is to be deployed in case of a collision. Figure 1 below shows the typical arrangement in the cabin with the steering wheel connected. Figure 2 below shows a reimagined cabin that shows how the cockpit might look with the steering wheel removed.
The steering wheel may also be a drive-by-wire system. The steering module will then include “a combination of a feedback motor, sensors, and a bearing-mounted stub shaft”. Although it must be noted that the drive-by-wire systems are still not perfect and feel artificial, but the technology may advance to a point where the drivers may not feel any difference between by two.
Similarly, the removable pedals may be connected by “threaded fasteners and spring-loaded snap engagement features.” This arrangement would also employ sensors to determine whether or not the pedals are connected in place.
The disclosed technology allows the vehicle to look and feel truly autonomous, and also increase the cabin space without compromising on safety. Also, this “system architecture enables the use of a steering wheel for development purposes, and enables the easy provision of a steering wheel as a customer-requested option”. Drivers may also get the familiar feel of a car with a steering wheel if they so desire. The technology disclosed in the patent application may change the way in which all vehicles are designed
Further, according to another patent application, Ford also plans to sell companion drones along with its self-driving cars to provide additional information needed to drive.
Publication Number: US20170225570 A1
Patent Title: Removable steering wheel and pedals for autonomous vehicle
Publication date: 10 Aug 2017
Filing date: 5 Feb 2016
Priority date: 5 Feb 2016
Inventors: Steven R. El Aile, John P. Joyce, Andrew Brown, Scott J. Lauffer, Samer Abbas
Original Assignee: Ford Global Technologies, Llc