Ever since Bertha Benz first drove the Patent Motorwagen back in 1886, steering wheels have been round things that you turn to steer the front wheels. Sure, there have been some funky variations over the years, such as a few square-shaped wheels and even a Saab which had a joystick, but for the most part steering wheels have been almost exactly the same as Bertha Benz’s. That’s because there really hasn’t been any sort of secondary function for a steering wheel. But with the advent of autonomous cars, what’s demanded of a steering wheel is going to change. Which is why BMW has recently filed a patent for a transforming steering wheel.
Some patent drawings were found by BMWX2Forum and they show a steering wheel that’s normally round but can squish to become flatter. The idea is that the steering wheel will be a normal, round steering wheel while you’re driving the car. However, once you switch the car over to autonomous mode, allowing the car to drive itself, the steering wheel will transform into more of a football (American) shape.
That way, it’s less intrusive for the driver, who can now stretch their legs and get comfy while the car drives itself. But when it’s time to take control of the wheel again, the steering wheel can quickly transform back into its normal shape.
This actually seems quite clever. We’ve seen countless autonomous concepts over the years, even from BMW, in which the steering wheel completely folds away for autonomous driving. However, in reality, that’s a bit silly because it would take far too long to get the steering wheel back in case of an event causing the driver to take over. BMW’s new patent would allow the steering wheel to still be used, even in its football shape but just transform into different shapes for different purposes. So it’s never out of reach.
Admittedly, fully-self-driving cars are so far off that this tech be virtually useless for the foreseeable future. That said, it’s sort of car companies’ jobs to look that far into the future and try and plan ahead. That’s what BMW is doing here and it actually seems like a good idea.