In February 2016 Ford filed for a patent that allows its future autonomous vehicles to use a removable steering wheel and pedals, and the patent was published earlier this month.
Sources suggest that despite fully automated driving not requiring the need for a permanent steering wheel and a set of pedals, it will not be entirely banished from the design. It is believed that these controls will still be incorporated in a removable format, to aide testing or personal driving requirements.
Notes from the patent reveal that Ford came across a unique challenge while removing the steering wheel. It speaks about the safety concerns of using an airbag in both the dashboard and the steering wheel, since the dashboard airbag needs to be activated in the absence of the steering wheel. In fact, the patent depicts airbag deployment in both situations. The patent also shows how the connection openings would be covered by panels to provide a pleasing appearance when the components are removed.
Although regulations for future autonomous vehicles are not yet in place, car makers like Ford are building solutions based on how they foresee the autonomous future of vehicles. This is so that they can package these functions into a car that can be sold with or without self-driving features, depending on the market/region.