BMW Has a Plan to Make Tesla's Worst Idea Even More Weird

BMW may be cooking up an idea that would one-up the steering yoke.

bmw steering wheel
Uwe Fischer

One of Tesla's most controversial product features of recent note is the steering yoke, which is now the only option for steering on the latest Model S. The brand replaced the traditional round steering wheel with an airplane-like apparatus. It solves a minor issue — getting an unobstructed view of the instrument display — but creates several potentially serious safety and usability issues in the process.

The idea of a steering yoke, to put it simply, feels very Tesla. But it seems Elon Musk's outfit is not the only manufacturer thinking along similar lines. BMW has been working on an even weirder idea. CarBuzz uncovered their U.S. patent application for a "steering handle," an even more radical departure from the traditional wheel.

bmw patent drawing
USPTO
bmw patent drawing
USPTO

BMW's idea calls for replacing the wheel with two L-shaped handles that would fold out from the dash and be maneuverable into various configurations, allowing the driver to operate the vehicle. But unlike Tesla, BMW is not planning to replace the wheel with a steering handle in the next iteration of the M5 sedan. The German brand envisages the steering handle being used in autonomous or partially autonomous vehicles.

bmw patent drawing
USPTO

Concept vehicles often present that autonomous vehicle life as idealized and futuristic. You may be picturing your glamorous future self sipping champagne in your mobile lounge, but the reality is likely to look very different — at least, early on.

The first autonomous vehicles will look like the current cars you operate yourself. Safety features are designed for occupants facing forward in one to three rows. Any deviation from that will require a radical, expensive redesign and additional regulation. For psychological or practical reasons, such vehicles are also likely to have a manual override feature to allow the primary occupant to take control of the vehicle.

In such a scenario, one could see the space that a full steering wheel takes up being a nuisance to the driver catching up on work, manipulating screens and enjoying an immersive video and audio experience. A comparatively small handle that folds out for rare use cases would make more sense.

Of course, eventual autonomous driving may be the ultimate reasoning behind Tesla's incorporation of the yoke as well. Elon Musk has once again stated that Tesla should figure out Level 4 autonomy before the end of 2022. And if that materializes — note that Musk has been promising this for a loooong time — seeing the display would become more critical than comfortably manipulating the wheel for long periods.

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