Apple has made a significant stride in the realm of autonomous driving with a recently granted patent that could reshape the way we envision self-driving cars. This patent introduces a novel concept: a retractable steering wheel and pedals. While it might sound counterintuitive at first, this innovation is a response to the evolving landscape of autonomous driving technology and the varied scenarios in which it operates. The patent envisions a vehicle capable of autonomous driving on multi-lane highways, handling tasks like steering, accelerating, and braking without any human intervention. When the car ventures into city streets or other complex environments, it can seamlessly transition to manual driving mode, where the driver assumes control.
Vehicles come equipped with steering wheels, accelerator pedals, and brake pedals as standard driver input devices. With advancements in autonomous driving systems, these driver input devices are becoming less essential in certain situations. For instance, on highways with adaptive cruise control and lane-centering systems, the car can autonomously handle acceleration, braking, and steering, rendering human input unnecessary. There remain scenarios, such as congested urban areas or instances where the driver prefers manual control, where these driver input devices are still relevant.
This dichotomy between autonomous and manual driving modes is where Apple’s retractable steering wheel and pedals come into play. By designing these components to retract when not needed, the car gains newfound interior flexibility. Seats can pivot and recline more freely, offering passengers a lounge-like experience. Safety is a paramount concern. The retractable design ensures that passengers cannot inadvertently interfere with the car’s autonomous driving functions, enhancing overall safety. While this patent demonstrates Apple’s commitment to advancing autonomous driving, it’s important to note that obtaining a patent doesn’t guarantee that the technology will enter production. Apple is known for patenting a wide range of innovations, many of which never materialize in commercial products. In the ever-evolving landscape of autonomous vehicles, the line between manual and autonomous driving continues to blur. While Level 4 autonomous driving, where the vehicle handles all driving tasks in specific conditions, is a reality in some places, the need for manual controls remains. This limitation affects the interior layout of Level 4 vehicles, restricting their potential for innovation.
Apple’s retractable steering wheel and pedals offer a compelling solution to this challenge. By seamlessly transitioning between autonomous and manual modes and optimizing interior space, it paves the way for a new era of automotive design and safety. While the Apple Car’s future remains uncertain, this patent showcases the company’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of technology in the automotive industry.