Should fully self-driven cars which are dependent on automation and not human feedback from the steering wheel and pedals retain these vestiges of human-driven vehicles? A new Ford patent, issued last Thursday, might be marking the beginning of the end for the steering wheel and pedals.

The patent has showcased an idea of a car with a removable steering wheel and pedals. According to the patent titled, “Removable Steering Wheel and pedals for autonomous vehicle,” the steering would remain only for development purposes and be available as a customer-requested option.

The self-driving paradigm hasn’t yet eliminated the need for human interference in driving and therefore the idea of the patent is to keep these options as removable and not completely eliminate them.

Ford Steering Wheel A new Ford patent has hinted at a removable steering wheel and pedals in self-driven cars. Photo: USPTO

The patent also highlights the challenges of removing the steering wheel. First and foremost, the steering wheel houses the driver side airbag and also that “the lack of a steering wheel can handicap vehicle development by making it more difficult to place a vehicle under a driver's control” for evaluating a vehicle’s response to dynamic maneuvers such as rapid lane changes. What this means, in simple terms, is that the ability of a self-driven vehicle response in an emergency, such as making rapid lane changes to avoid a collision cannot be fully assessed without a human at the wheel ready to take over when needed.

The airbag issue has also been addressed by the patent — Ford suggests putting in two airbags, one in the dashboard and one in the steering. The steering one will deploy when the car is under human control, while the dashboard one will deploy when the car is driving autonomously. It will be electronically switched off if the steering wheel is locked in place.

The steering wheel can be either controlled by humans or automation, while the pedals can be controlled by a gas and spring damper. More importantly, the brake pedal can be controlled electronically using a software to ensure precision.

Ford’s model will also help sell its self-driven cars in countries and states with different legislation regarding the technology. It would allow Ford to build two variants of such cars — one in which humans can temporarily take over the control of the car and one that is fully autonomous and hence comes without a steering wheel or pedals.

While the model proposed by Ford seems futuristic yet possible, it also brings us closer to another reality — as we move closer to a future with self-driven cars, the whole structure of the car as we have been used to in the past century will change.

The lack of a steering wheel, pedals and gear doesn’t just mean pulling out these components from a car. It would mean changing the whole mechanics of the car and carmakers would have to rethink their designs for their cars as the whole frame of the car will be altered.

Yet, a self-driving future is staring us in the face, even though car makers have just started preparing for it and most drivers don’t even know how it will function yet. But, if this patent is an indication, it is coming sooner than you would expect.