BMW patents reveal yoke steering wheel for self-driving models

Patents indicate that BMW is creating a radical yoke-style ‘steering handle’, which folds away when not in use, for its future autonomous cars

BMW Yoke

Drawings from a patent filed by BMW reveal that the brand is designing a yoke steering wheel for its future self-driving cars. The concept is a radical development of the yoke-style steering wheel introduced by Tesla with its Model S Plaid – it features swivelling grip handles and can be folded away when self-driving is enabled. 

The patent drawings don't give away exactly what the device will look like, but the new steering wheel – referred to as a 'steering handle' in the files – operates like that of no other production car. 

The central hub is the same as a traditional steering wheel’s, but the similarities end there. Two spokes are attached to opposite sides of the hub, with grips at each end for the driver to hold. The spokes are attached using swivelling joints that allow the grips to rotate and remain upright, no matter the orientation of the centre boss.

The patent highlights that the system is designed for a self-driving car, and the spokes can fold away when in autonomous mode. 

However, under normal driving, the steering handle doesn't look to be practical for larger amounts of steering lock, since the design prevents a driver from feeding it through their hands, as they would with a typical steering wheel. This is an issue with Tesla's yoke solution, but more so with BMW's design, since the spokes and grips also rotate to stay upright no matter the steering angle. 

The patent drawings show a driver turning the wheel 270 clockwise; it isn’t clear whether this is the system’s maximum rotation, but this is far smaller than that of a conventional car if so. This could mean that BMW is developing a variable-ratio steering system for its future models that use the steering handle, which would allow for an increased degree of steering for comparatively little steering wheel rotation during low-speed manoeuvres. 

If BMW’s steering handle is intended for production, we won’t see it until the firm releases its first fully autonomous car, when government legislation allows. Currently, the UK allows for level 2 autonomy, enabling advanced driver assist systems to control steering, throttle and brakes in certain scenarios while the driver remains fully alert with their hands on the wheel.

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