Google Self-Driving Car
Google’s driverless cars have full autonomy but only in the places where Google has created highly detailed 3D maps. Google

Google has been working on self-driving cars for quite a while, but now, it looks like Google is also working on technology that would allow for tablet-steered vehicles, according to a patent application published Tuesday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The Google patent describes a system that gives users different controls, depending on where in the car a tablet is located. If the vehicle pilot is holding the device, the tablet could be used as a steering vehicle for the car or for controls, such as applying the brakes. Meanwhile, if the tablet is held by a passenger, the device could be used to operate a vehicle's entertainment system or climate controls.

This technology "effectively enables passengers to use a touch screen (or another input device) to perform control actions for the vehicle that would otherwise take the flipping of a switch, turning of a knob, or pressing of a pedal," the patent description reads.

This technology doesn't make much sense for the vehicles we have today (how hard is it to turn a steering wheel or turn a nob?), but it would work perfectly for Google's self-driving car. Late last year, Google revealed a new prototype of its self-driving vehicles, and what stood out most is that the funky-looking cars have no steering wheel. Lack of a steering wheel should be no problem for a self-driving vehicle, but by giving users the ability to control their vehicle using a tablet, Google is creating a nice little fail-safe for its cars.

Most patents by tech companies rarely make it to the public as finished technologies, but this one could be an exception. This patent application was filed just a year ago. That means there's a high chance Google paid an extra $5,000 to expedite the patent-granting process, said Mikhail Avady of SmartUp, a legal startup that specializes in helping clients connect with lawyers. SmartUp was the first to spot the patent. Paying that extra fee shows Google is serious.