Ford Files Patent Application for Removable Steering Wheel, Pedals
Ford is projecting that it will introduce autonomous vehicles for ride-sharing purposes 2021 and for the public as early as 2025 and no later by 2031. The proposed 2021 deadline is accompanied by the expectation that these autonomous vehicles would drop traditional features like steering wheels or pedals, rendering them ostensibly undrivable by human beings. With a new patent application filed by Ford in mind, it appears that these vehicles may instead offer the best of both worlds.
Automotive News discovered a patent application filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on February 5th, 2016, and published on August 10th, 2017 for a removable steering wheel and pedals.
According to the application, the idea of removing the steering wheel is related to the challenge created by the lack of a driver-side airbag. In instances where a steering wheel is removed, it would be replaced by a “filler module,” which would include a driver-side airbag. The utility of including the option of having a steering wheel is one of safety and of familiarity—even if it serves no real function in autonomous mode.
The abstract reads:
A dashboard assembly for a vehicle includes a dashboard defining a receiving niche. The niche is alignable with a driver seat location, and is selectively fillable by each of a removable steering module and a removable filler module. The removable steering module includes a steering module base… The removable filler module includes a filler module base.
The patent also mentions a removable pedal module, which is “removably fixed to vehicle floor to maintain it in a forward position” and is detected “with electronic displacement transducers incorporated into module.”
A Ford spokesman responding to Automotive News said: “We submit patents on innovative ideas as a normal course of business. Patent applications are intended to protect new ideas but aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.”
There is still quite a bit of time between now and the formal advent of mass-produced autonomous vehicle technology, so this technology’s application can and may very well change over the next five years to a decade.
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