Google largely helped to pioneer the concept of a steering wheel- and pedal-free self-driving experience when it began testing its Firefly pod-like vehicles a few years ago.
Largely in reaction to Google's disruptive entry into the automotive world before Waymo was spun off as a separate driverless unit, carmakers began to aggressively design driverless options into their vehicles, which until only recently, served as more advanced cruise control options than they did as hands-off driving options. Meanwhile, the concept of designing cars without steering wheels, brake and gas pedals, and other equipment for human drivers remained largely pie in the sky and incongruous with the traditional driver-centric retail model that is over one hundred years old.
Now, Ford has applied for a patent that seemingly offers the best of both worlds with a module design that makes it easy to both add and remove the steering wheel and pedals for human drivers. With this concept, Ford is hedging its bets with a one-design-fits-all concept.
According to the patent, here are the key advantages by allowing carmakers to more easily:
- add a steering wheel and other human controls for human drivers as a security measure when drivers are required to monitor the car when conducting tests;
- add steering wheels and pedals for human drivers who prefer to drive or when they must be ready to assume control of the vehicle for Level 2 and Level 3 driving;
- begin mass production of driverless cars for which human input is not required for driving and do not have steering wheels and pedals .
The concept seems almost commonsensical, yet until now, no one has patented the idea. Look out for Ford driverless cars in 2021 when the fabled carmaker begins to introduce its first Level 4 models. And it is just as likely that the same models will have no steering wheels or pedals as they are offered in driverless ride-hailing fleets at that time.
Ford is also in the news today as it unveils an all-electric delivery van it developed with Deutsche Post DHL Group for delivery services in Europe. According to Ford, DHL will deploy over 2,500 of the vans at major cities. A Ford spokesperson told me that Ford will continue to deploy electric vehicle (EV) delivery fleet services as part of its mobility service business model, ahead of when it begins to introduce driverless models into the fleets. It will likely do this through Argo AI, which largely represents its driverless arm, after agreeing to invest $1 billion in the company earlier this year.
The US, UK beef up security defenses against automotive cyber attacks. Autoliv, Seeing Machines to offer driver-recognition systems. PARC Laboratories spinoff to develop artificial intelligence (AI) for driverless car radar and antennas.