It’s more than time to put “vehicles getting more toys” on that list of life’s certainties right alongside death and taxes. From ultra-massaging thrones to beverage chillers, the automotive industry is always looking to up the ante. Along those lines, Ford has filed a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a retractable steering wheel, and although the patent application is tight-lipped on why a system like this may be desirable, the application does tell us exactly what the retractable steering wheel does.
Let’s read the patent application:
A vehicle includes a steering wheel support assembly that includes a trim component that defines a trough. The vehicle further includes a steering wheel operably coupled to the steering wheel support assembly and operable to pivot about a first axis from a steering wheel use position to a steering wheel stowed position. In the steering wheel use position, the steering wheel is operable to rotate about a second axis to steer the vehicle. In the steering wheel stowed position, a portion of the steering wheel is received within the trough defined by the trim component.
Patent applications contain very dry copy, so let me summarize exactly what’s going on here. Ford wants this steering wheel to pivot flat before retracting to partially hide within a dashboard compartment, as evident in the below drawing.
A proper tilt-away steering wheel is interesting, partly because it has echoes of Ford’s side-hinged tilt-away steering column from the age of chrome and partly because it’s a novel way to make doing truck stuff easier, like writing out a memo on the center console. However, Ford doesn’t want to build this retracting steering wheel with mere lip service to blue-collar work in mind. If we look further into the patent application drawings, we can see that the retractable steering wheel is part of a suite of relaxation measures.
Oh, that’s a footrest deployed after the pedal box whirrs out of sight. Very nice. While it would be great if every charging station in the country was close to some sort of eating establishment, some are in relatively empty locations. As such, drivers may need to just wait in their vehicle until it charges, and getting rid of the steering wheel and pedals to form a lounge space could make passing time more comfortable. This bit of tech should really open up the cabin, especially when using the central infotainment screen to play games or watch films.
It’s worth noting that the concept of lounge seating isn’t anything new. The Honda Element pictured above could fold its seats into a bed back in the early 2000s, the Austin Maxi could do it in the ’70s, and several automakers currently offer extended recline functions on vehicle seats [Editor’s Note: Don’t forget the 1990s Renault Twingo! -DT]. However, all of these seating options I’ve mentioned still came bolted near steering wheels and pedals that could get in the way.
As it stands, Ford has an extended-recline system called Max Recline available on its full-size pickup trucks, so there’s a good chance this retractable steering wheel thing could appear on a future truck if a patent is granted. The next F-150 Lightning seems like a suitable candidate, especially with Ford’s lofty claims of autonomy.
Earlier this year, Ford CEO Jim Farley generated some hype around the next F-150 Lightning and told told Yahoo Finance that “We think we’re going to be able to land a semi-autonomous system so you’ll be able to sleep in your truck while you’re traveling on the highway. It would be I think…the first, maybe one of the first vehicles you can do that safely in the U.S.”
Whether or not the hardware and software to safely support that sort of autonomy will happen the next few years is hard to say, but seats with ultra-deep reclining, retractable steering wheels, and disappearing pedals all seem like supporting tech to achieve the goal of sleeping in a pickup truck, whether it’s moving or not.
Of course, there’s also the real possibility that we’ll see something like this in a Lincoln considering the brand’s recent reputation for excellent seats that adjust in a truly bewildering number of ways. Passenger comfort seems paramount for Lincoln, so enhancing space to stretch out while future EVs charge goes well with the brand’s luxury ethos. Whatever the future may hold, a retractable steering wheel and pedals should go a long way towards making first-row lounge seating more comfortable.
(Photo credits: Ford, USPTO, Honda)
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I don’t understand how hiding the wheel could be advantageous in any way. You wouldn’t need to move it to lay down, and even if you did they could just have a tilt column that goes up slightly further than normal. Plus you would need a second airbag.
And the laying down while driving is never going to pass crash testing requirements. This seems like a gimmicky and pointless pursuit.
I would just like to offer my appreciation that you referred to this as a “patent application” instead of going with the inaccurate “FORD PATENTS RETRACTABLE STEERING WHEEL”.
So, question: Where’s the driver’s airbag? Under the dash? In the sun visor? Or won’t it need one because autonomous vehicles won’t never ever crash?
With the prices of trucks skyrocketing, interest rates going up, and unemployment rising, I suspect Ford is just getting ready for a new wave of customers who will live out the old adage:
“You can sleep in your truck, but you can’t drive your house.”
They’re really working hard to
Figure Out Relaxed Driving.
This would have been handy back when my 6’5″ cousin and I traveled about in my ’71 Fiat 128 sedan for a few weeks. During a pacticularly rainy night, cousin got the passenger seat, while I got to sleep in the seat with th steering wheel.
I stumbled upon (doctor office TV) and episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and the car (I think) was a ’55 MB 360 that had a steering wheel that pivoted 90 degrees to tuck under the dash.
Was gonna say why do they need a patent since this was in Thunderbirds but it’s probably just an updated one…the Thunderbird back then was so awesome
I’m surprised Lexus didn’t beat them to this patent – having built a steer-by-wire car (the RZ 450e) it seems like a fairly logical step that you should be able to move/remove the wheel/yoke when it’s not in use.
Or while in use.
(Cheap jab at Tesla)
My question would be, is it drive by wire? ie totally eliminate the steering column linkage?
It could be a great anti theft device (other than a manual gearbox).
I don’t get it. why does charging your car make you want to go to sleep? I get moving the steering wheel away makes more room to relax and watch a movie, work on a laptop, eat, etc. but I’m not going to lay flat and stare at the ceiling. will it come with airplane blankets and pillows too?
You won’t be looking at the ceiling, they’re going to add screens there as well.
Probably with ads and forced DNS like most modern SmartTV.