- Ford has filed a patent for a pair of programs that would allow drivers to steer an autonomous vehicle (AV) from their phone or another touchscreen device, according to documents first obtained by CarBuzz.
- Under one mode, the car could be controlled by tilting the phone in one direction, similar to the steering mode on certain racing games. In the other mode, a virtual steering wheel would appear on screen to be controlled by the user’s finger. In both, the car would maintain control of acceleration and braking.
- It’s unclear if the driving modes would ever see the light of day — as CNET points out, many patents filed by automakers are never executed.
The patents — as wild as they may sound — show the amount of innovation that’s going on in the auto industry as companies prepare for AVs. Since self-driving vehicles may not need steering wheels (an innovation made easier by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s move to relax rules requiring human drivers be in control), a smartphone control may be the way to allow drivers to regain control if the car is off course. The system comes with obvious concerns — how quickly could a driver take control, for example — but the patent indicates that Ford is at least thinking well beyond current car designs.
The control system also reacts to a common safety concern with some partial autonomous systems, where cruise control systems may steer out of lanes or follow other cars off the road. A report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in August detailing individual self-driving systems’ problems cautioned that automakers needed to be aware of the "trade-offs inherent in automated assistance."
Given the public’s lack of comfort with AVs as it is, automakers will need to build in more control. The phone connection may not be the ideal approach, but Ford’s early patent shows the automaker is keeping those concerns front of mind.