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Here’s something rather unconventional. Volvo has filed a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a vehicle to have multiple driving positions, as discovered by members of the Rivian Owners Forum. In essence, this allows a vehicle to switch from left- to right-hand drive, or even have the driver in the centre.

In Volvo’s filing, the carmaker talks about the five levels of driving autonomy as developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Going through the levels briefly, Level 0 is where the driver controls all aspects of vehicle operation, with Level 5 being a fully automated mode where no human intervention is required. The levels in between (Level 1-4) include various combinations of human- and computer-controlled operation.

The company goes on to say that when operating a vehicle in human-controlled mode (Levels 0-2), a driver can be positioned either on the left or right side, depending on the rules of the country in which the vehicle is being driven. However, for vehicles that offer higher automated modes (Levels 3-5), the controls may not necessarily be used on a regular basis by a human driver, and in some situations, they may not even be seated in a conventional driving position.

Therefore, a variable system as suggested in the patent provides more flexibility in highly autonomous vehicles, particularly in situations where the driver may need to assume control of the vehicle.

In theory, Volvo says the steering wheel, which uses a steer-by-wire technology, can be moved along a rail in the dashboard from one side to another. Should there be a bench seat on the front row, it could even be positioned in the centre of the vehicle. All additional controls like the indicators and gear selector appear to move together with the steering column.

The patent also shows a system where the gear selector slides along a rail rather than being integrated with the steering column, while the front seats can either be fixed or be placed on rails as well, although the latter is a curious idea.

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As for the foot controls, the filing suggests that conventional pedals can be used, with a more advanced method being implementing sensor pads in the floor panels, which would be activated based on the steering wheel’s position.

For the instrument cluster, Volvo describes two options, with the first being a digital display that spans the width of the dashboard, providing important driving information following where the driving controls are at the time. The alternative is having a smaller display mounted on the steering column, which as mentioned earlier, moves along a rail.

Given that companies file patents on the regular, there’s no certainty that Volvo will bring its variable driving position system to market, and even if it plans to, it will likely take some time to iron out the details. Nonetheless, it’s certainly an intriguing idea, having a vehicle that can be both left- and right-hand drive, don’t you think?