Swedish car maker Volvo has patented a system that could allow customers to choose if they want the steering wheel in the middle of the car, or moved to the left or ride side of the vehicle.
Sketches show a design that allows the wheel to be moved to three locations across the dashboard and also a moving gear selector, shifting front seats and pressure-sensitive pads to replace the conventional pedals.
Concept drawing were submitted by the manufacturer to the US Patent and Trademark Office last month and could – in theory – spell the end of brands having to produce separate versions of the same models in left- and right-hand drive for different markets.
On the slide: Volvo has submitted a selection of concept drawings to patent the design of a sliding steering wheel system
The sliding steering wheel design might sound like an odd move, but is aimed at appeasing owners of future automated vehicles.
While self-driving cars are expected to be able to take over full responsibility of controlling the vehicle, before full automation is given the green light by law makers there will be the requirement for humans to actively be involved in directing the motor.
The argument is that with humans doing less of the driving, they shouldn’t be dictated where they sit in the car based on the location of the controls.
By providing a movable steering wheel it means occupants in these future models can sit in any of the front seats and be able to steer, accelerate and slow the vehicle if required to do so.
Sketches – which were filed on 24 September – show the steering wheel mounted to a track that allows it to slide across the dashboard with an attached instrument cluster.
There are screens on both the left and right side of the vehicle, which can operate as a second display for the driver to show the available electric range or sat-nav instructions when the wheel is placed in front of it.
If the steering wheel is on the other side of the car, the screen can then operate as a conventional infotainment display for a passenger in that seat.
There is also separate designs for a screen that spans the full width of the dashboard, which could provide varying information based on where the controls are located, or one that slides with the wheel itself.
Another of the sketches shows the design with the wheel mounted in the centre of the cabin
McLaren’s iconic 1990s F1 supercar featured a centrally-mounted driver’s seat and control layout – that design sees the driver flanked by two passenger seats
The sliding steering wheel design – seen here with the mount that attached to the rail to move the controls across the dashboard – might sound like an odd move
And it’s not just the steering wheel that can move as part of the patent.
Drawings also show plans for a rail system for the front seats and the gear selector.
By being able to adjust the position of the chairs, it means the user can have the steering wheel and all supporting controls in the centre of the dashboard.
Another sketch used in the patent application shows the gear selector as a stalk attached to the movable steering wheel system.
As for the pedals, these have been eliminated in favour of ‘pressure-sensitive floor panel sensors’, with the pads fitted potentially across the steering-wheel-position variations and activate only when it is fixed in one of the three placement options.
Another of the sketches submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office on 24 September show the console-mounted gear selector also on a rail so it can be shifted across the car
A second design suggests the gear selector could instead be locate on the steering column – similar to the layout for automatic Mercedes models – and move with the sliding wheel itself
The two seats on rails means the operator can move their chair to the middle of the cabin if they want to steer from a central position in future cars
These will allow for brake and accelerator inputs, with a clutch ditched as semi- and fully-automated cars will ultimately move to automatic transmissions.
While the system sounds a little convoluted and complicates a simple traditional setup, it could potentially help Volvo and other car brands to avoid the increased manufacturing costs of having to place the steering wheel and driving controls on opposite sides of the car to fulfill different market requirements.
And it’s not the first time a system of this type has been suggested and even put into production.
Mercedes’ Unimog – a military and emergency services heavy-duty vehicle designed to be used on the most difficult terrains – has a function that allows the centre console panel to be removed and the main controls relocated to the centre of the cabin.
The steering column, including the wheel, attached instrument cluster, gear selector mounted on a stalk and the pedal box, can be slid across the dashboard, and the removed plastic fascia refitted where the controls were previously.
While the application to patent a sliding steering wheel has been made by Volvo, the Mercedes Unimog already features a similar system
As seen here, the steering wheel, instrument cluster, gear selector and pedals are all mounted to the steering column and it – along with the centre console – can, in this example, be moved to the right so the driver is more centrally positioned in the cabin
Volvo has already become the first car maker to fit all its new models from 2020 with speed limiters
Volvo’s sliding steering wheel patent is among a number of quirky and oddball applications made by car brands to copyright designs so they’re a step ahead of the market.
This includes Toyota’s patent for an anti-theft system that sprays tear gas into the car’s cabin when it detects someone is trying to steal it, or Google’s idea for its autonomous cars to have bonnets with a sticky coating so pedestrians hit by the vehicles will be glued to panel rather than sent flying through the air.
That said, Volvo has already in 2020 become the first car-maker to fit speed limiters across its entire range of vehicles, restricting top speeds to 112mph.
It has also launched a Care Key system that pre-programs a specific key for vehicles with a designated speed limit. This can be set as low as 31mph and is designed for parents who lend their expensive cars to their recently-qualified children.
The Swedish firm, now owned by Chinese giant Geely, is also planning to fit all new models in the coming months with cameras to monitor driver reaction to determine if they’re drunk or distracted behind the wheel – and bring the vehicle safely to a stop if it thinks the driver is intoxicated.