Volvo wants to patent a design that could bring sliding steering wheels to its future automated vehicles.
  • Volvo filed a patent application for a steering wheel that slides side to side within a car's cabin. 
  • The design would allow passengers in a highly automated vehicle of the future to move the steering wheel out of the way and have more room to stretch out. 
  • The technology would likely face a long regulatory road if Volvo ever sought to include it in a production car. 
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Although driver-assistance systems are the new craze, true autonomous vehicles — cars that will allow for driving without any human intervention — are still nowhere close to hitting the streets.

Nevertheless, Volvo anticipates a future with automated driving technology so advanced that steering wheels become optional — at least, judging by a patent application the company filed last month. 

Filed September 24 and first unearthed by the Rivian Owners Forum, the patent application describes designs for a drive-by-wire steering wheel that can slide side to side across a vehicle's cabin. Theoretically, the application states, that would allow passengers to travel seamlessly between right-hand-drive and left-hand-drive jurisdictions. 

The feature could also come into play in a highly automated future vehicle, enabling passengers to slide the wheel out of the way when the driver-assistance system takes over, according to the filing. Even if the passenger isn't sitting in the standard driver's seat, they can move the steering wheel and take over control of the vehicle if needed.

According to the filing, other controls like the brakes, accelerator, and gear selector could be movable as well. 

A steering wheel that moves out of the way when not in use isn't a new idea.

A boatload of autonomous-vehicle concepts have either done away with steering wheels altogether or made them disappear when not in use. Hyundai outfitted its Prophecy concept with joysticks instead of steering wheel, while BMW's Vision Next 100 featured a steering wheel that folds out of the way when it's not needed. The Rinspeed XchangE from 2014 incorporated a sliding steering wheel quite similar to Volvo's designs. 

Although a patent filing doesn't signal any kind of hard commitment to a design, it can indicate a bit more faith in the idea than just popping it into an outlandish concept car at an auto show.

Certification, however, is another story. Volvo and others will likely face a long road if or when they attempt to make this sort of technology street legal. 

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