German car maker BMW appears to be in the process of inventing a collapsible steering wheel for autonomous cars.
Patent drawings obtained by a BMW owners forum show the steering wheel is designed to change from a perfect circle to the shape of a football.
The idea, apparently, is that the more compact design gives those in the driver’s seat more knee room once the car takes over.
The first image below shows the steering wheel in its normal format. The second image below shows the steering wheel when collapsed.
There is no guarantee the collapsible BMW sterling wheel will go into production; car makers regularly apply for patents for technology they might one day use but which could be years away from production – or discarded altogether.
The BMW fan website BMWX2forum which unearthed the patent drawings has speculated the revolutionary steering wheel “could also change shape in a driver's hands to alert the driver faster than a voice or sound notification”.
BMW of course is remaining tight-lipped about the secret steering wheel and any possible plans to introduce it, but it demonstrates some of the lateral thinking being considered for autonomous cars of the future.
Meantime, don’t hold your breath for a fully autonomous car anytime soon.
Development had already been put on the back burner as the world’s car makers focused their energy – and budgets – towards the development of electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient engines.
Following the global outbreak of the coronavirus – and the shutdown or slowdown of vehicle production globally – autonomous car plans will likely be pushed back even further, given the high cost and low return from the technology.
Experts believe fully autonomous vehicles could still be 10 to 20 years away given the complexity of the technology.
Initially, there will be driver assistance tech that takes the monotony out of freeway driving – dubbed “on-ramp to off-ramp” – because there are fewer variables in open-road driving.
For now, the countless sensors required for autonomous cars are struggling to accurately keep up with “reading” and detecting pedestrians, cyclists, street signs and traffic signals.