Way back in May of 2014, Google showed the world a prototype of its self-driving car. It was small and cute and a little quirky, to be sure, but what caught the attention of most folks was its lack of a steering wheel or a brake pedal.
Later that summer, California's Department of Motor Vehicles published guidelines that said autonomous vehicles being tested in the state had to have those kinds of accouterments--you know, just in case humans needed to step in and save the day (FYI, an unlikely scenario). Less than two years later, federal regulators pushed back against those kinds of restrictions, stating that no, Google and other manufacturers of self-driving cars shouldn't have to have those features because they don't rely on human drivers.
Now, Ford has received a patent for a vehicle that can swing both ways. The automaker's designs envision an autonomous car with a removable steering column and pedals.
In theory, it's fairly easy to do both of those things, but doing so presents some interesting challenges--particularly the removal of the steering wheel and column.
That's because the steering wheel is traditionally home to the driver's frontal airbag. As part of the patent, Ford has had to install a second frontal airbag in the dashboard, which is only activated when the steering column is removed.
As with most patents, there's no guarantee that Ford will ever employ this design in any of its vehicles. However, it does point to some interesting possibilities--and challenges--as we enter a world in which we leave more of the driving to artificially intelligent software.
You can view Ford's filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by clicking here.