This month, the United States Patent and Trademark Office approved a patent application from a group of Ford employees for an “autonomous car with reconfigurable seats.”
It’s the latest step in Ford’s move into the world of self driving cars, and comes on the heels of the company’s launch of an advanced engineering program headed by the company’s Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California.
The company also has partnerships with MIT and Stanford to conduct research into the challenges of automated driving.
According to the patent, filed by Mark Cuddihy, Manoharprasad Rao, and Jialiang Le, the design calls for an automobile capable of operating without the input of a driver.
At the same the vehicle is equipped with seats capable of changing its layout.
This means that when the car is in autonomous mode, the passenger cabin can be converted into a lounge or a more socially conducive setting — turning the average family sedan into a road-going private jet.
In one configuration, the front seats rotate 180 degrees and face backwards resulting in an open lounge layout that’s perfect for business meetings or a family gathering on a long trip. In this layout, the steering wheel assembly can retract into the dashboard to give the cabin extra legroom.
In another layout, the front seats can fold in the footwells creating an ottoman on which the rear seat passengers can rest their feet. Even better, the patent states that all of this reconfiguration can be done while the car is travelling down the road in autonomous mode.
Still, even with novel patents on what a self driving car could look like, Ford’s still seems well behind some of its competitors in this area. Audi, BMW, and Volvo all have fully autonomous technology in development that can function without any input from the driver — with cars already being tested on public roads.
Earlier this year, a convoy of Audi RS7s drove autonomously on public roads from San Francisco to Las Vegas, and in 2017, Volvo will have 100 customers try out its production autonomous cars on city streets in traffic. Google’s self-driving cars have already driven more than 1 million miles and are currently being tested in Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas.
As for the newly patented Ford, there’s no word if or when the concept could become reality.
“We submit patents on innovative ideas as a normal course of business,” a Ford spokesperson told Business Insider in an email. “Patent submissions help protect our new ideas but do not necessarily indicate future business or product plans.”
With that said, Ford’s idea is certainly novel and looks to be a practical development in future passenger vehicles.