Apple patents a retractable steering wheel and pedals for the Apple Car

Other Technology | September 8, 2023

Apple patents a retractable steering wheel and pedals for the Apple Car

The Apple Car continues to be a subject of speculation, even after Apple seemingly scaled back its ambitions for its development. However, futuristic vibes have returned: Cupertino has patented retractable steering wheel and pedals that “hide” when the vehicle operates autonomously.

This seems to revive the idea of an Apple Car “without steering wheels or pedals” that we heard about quite some time ago. However, it dispels the rumor that Apple’s vehicle will be 100% autonomous.

As is often the case with patents, the language used in the document is complex and, at times, unnatural. This is because, in this case, Apple is registering technology that it may intend to apply in different scenarios and in multiple evolutions of the same product.

Nevertheless, the following excerpt from the text clarifies the concept of the retractable steering wheel and pedals that we could see in the Apple Car. Apple describes that the vehicle may include two user input devices. One is categorized as a “steering input device” —a steering wheel, essentially—, and the other is referred to as a “driving input device,” meaning a pedal. Furthermore, Apple mentions two driving configurations: the first being manual, and the second being autonomous.

“The steering input device may be mechanically coupled to the vehicle body, and the user can rotate it to control the steering input in the first configuration. A physical separator may be provided between the steering input device and the user in the second configuration.

The driving input device may be a pedal mechanically coupled to the vehicle body, and the user can press it to receive the driving input in the first configuration. The pedal retracts within a cavity of an interior surface defining the passenger compartment in the second configuration.

The user input devices may be in the first configuration in the manual driving mode and in the second configuration in the autonomous driving mode. In the second configuration, the user input devices are configured so that the user does not manipulate them physically.”

The Apple Car will have retractable steering wheel and pedals

Apple Car

In its patent, Apple mentions several possible implementations of the Apple Car’s retractable steering wheel and pedals. For example, in one part of the document, it explains that the dashboard with the car’s instruments —which, at least in part, would be a screen— could also be mobile. In this way, in the manual driving configuration, the steering wheel would remain in front of the dashboard, like in a conventional car. But when switching to autonomous mode, the steering wheel would move behind the dashboard, and the latter would be positioned in front of the driver.

As for the pedals —throttle and brake, logically— Apple’s patent explains that they would remain extended during manual driving. However, when switching to autonomous mode, they would “hide” in a cavity, with their tops flush with the floor of the Apple Car’s cabin.

It’s evident that Apple has grand plans for the Apple Car. However, the fact that they’ve patented retractable steering wheels and pedals doesn’t necessarily mean they will incorporate them in the first generation of the vehicle, assuming it ever sees the light of day.

Apple revitalizes its car project

Rumors about Project Titan, the internal code name Apple uses for the Apple Car, have existed for a long time. Cupertino has invested heavily in R&D for various technologies that would theoretically be applied to their autonomous-capable vehicle. However, there has been no official word about this project thus far.

In fact, in the past two years, the Apple Car initiative has suffered setbacks with the departure of several key executives. Among them is Doug Field, who led the project and left for Ford, where he is now the head of product development and director of electric vehicles and digital systems. However, it’s also true that, to counter these departures, Apple has recruited individuals with extensive experience in the automotive industry. For example, Desi Ujkashevic (from Ford) and Luigi Taraborrelli (from Lamborghini).

Rumors suggest that we could see the Apple Car in 2025. However, it’s still unclear if Apple intends to include its new retractable steering wheel and pedal system from day one. What is clear is that the car will not be completely autonomous, and the new patent suggests that, at least initially, this system could only function on highways.

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