In the interim between semi-autonomous and self-driving, cars will need to be able to switch modes with relative ease. Ford has shown one possible way to move to self-driving mode, by making the steering wheel and brake pedals removable.
In a patent granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Ford shows how the wheel and pedals could be manually removed and refitted for testing the car. Customers would be able to move from autonomous to manual, simply by attaching the parts back to the car.
Once removed, the parts that connect to the steering wheel are folded away inside the dashboard. An airbag is fitted inside the front dash, replacing the one in the steering wheel.
Ford’s patent looks to a future where customers are able to choose between manual and self-driving. This is expected to be between 2025 and 2050, a time when people will still be allowed to drive, but cities and metro areas begin to move to a fully driverless system.
Commuters from outside the city may drive into town, before switching to a driverless mode.
Ford is aiming for a self-driving vehicle on the road by 2021, though it is expected to be part of the company’s own ride-sharing app. Customers won’t be able to purchase the cars until at least 2026, according to the company’s head of research.
What’s odd about the patent is Ford plans to skip Level 3 autonomy and go straight to Level 5, the highest level of self-driving. In that future, the computer will control the car in all environments.