Most concept cars that tout autonomy tend to have some complicated system whereby the pedals and/or the steering wheel fold into the dashboard when not in use. Ford's latest patent takes a different, and admittedly easier approach.
The system is pretty straightforward -- instead of some convoluted folding, the pedals and steering wheel are simply removable. According to the patent, Ford envisions the system as something that could permit a steering wheel for development purposes or customer desire, but could otherwise be taken out.
The wheel and pedals would connect to specific notches in the dashboard, with locking points to keep everything in place -- especially during a collision, should one occur. Trim pieces will otherwise obscure the notches, so there aren't ugly holes in the dashboard during normal vehicle operation.
But what about the airbag, you might ask? Ford's got a solution for that, too. There will still be an airbag in the steering wheel, but there will also be a secondary airbag in the dashboard. The car's systems will determine whether or not a wheel is installed and trigger the appropriate airbag accordingly.
Of course, having a digital connection between the pedals and the brake system means brake feel will be an issue. Ford's patent discusses making up for that with an electronic system that's meant to simulate brake feel. As for the steering -- well, most modern cars have incredibly numb steering already, so that won't be missed as dearly.
As with every automotive patent, there's a chance that this will never make it to production -- automakers routinely file patents for technology they don't want competitors to patent first. But with properly autonomous cars still years down the road, we won't see anything in this patent come to fruition for some time.