With Toyota reportedly planning to unveil their self-driving vehicles during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it won't be long until other autonomous vehicles hit the road. As Ford's latest patent suggests, there might even come a time where we will no longer need to use a steering wheel and pedals as standard, but instead have them as an option.
As mentioned in the patent filed, the new system filed by Ford uses a steering wheel for 'development purposes, and enables the easy provision of a steering wheel as a customer-requested option.' In order to mount the steering wheel, there will be connecting and locking points in the cabin to secure it in place. If the steering wheel is not installed, pieces of trim would cover the points of connection to give the interior a clean look.
In order to make a detachable steering wheel work, Ford mentions in the patent that a physical connection could still be used through a splined shaft. Apart from a splined shaft, steer-by-wire, such as the one found on the Infiniti Q50, could also be used as a potentially simpler option.
The same can be said for the pedals. Ford plans to use 'threaded fasteners and spring-loaded snap engagement' in order to mount the removable pedals. As an alternative option, the patent also mentions 'an electric actuator operated by software programmed to simulate brake pedal resistance and restoring force'.
Ford's removable steering wheel and pedals patent was filed on February 5, 2016. It was not until recently did the United States Patent and Trademark Office publish it. Like most patents files, some of these don't ever see production. As for Ford's removable steering wheel and pedals, don't expect it to find its way into vehicles soon until fully autonomous vehicles are developed.