VW's autonomous technology patent gives people options about how to handle different situations, and drivers input their choices from a panel on the gearshift.

A recently published patent from Europe reveals Volkswagen’s method of giving drivers a modicum of control over autonomous vehicles. The tech would let a person tell the system how to react to a situation and wouldn’t deactivate the self-driving mode.

Volkswagen’s patent uses a touch-sensitive surface on top of the gearshift. When the autonomous system detects a situation where there could be multiple decisions, the tech alerts the driver. The infotainment screen displays what the owner’s options are. For example, a person could choose to pass a vehicle ahead or remain behind it. To go around, the driver would swipe the gearshift’s panel to the side, or the person would move his/her finger vertically to stay in the lane.

VW self-driving tech patent sketch

In addition, a ring of lights around the touch panel would change colors to tell the driver how much time is left to make a decision. It might start at blue or green when there’s still plenty of room to make a choice. The color would get closer to red when a selection is more vital. The patent doesn’t outline what would happen if a user doesn’t enter a command, but presumably the autonomous system would then need to decide.

The touch surface also activates or deactivates the autonomous mode. For example, if someone wants to take control, the person would just put a hand over the panel for a second or two. Alternatively, a quick tap might turn the system on.

While the patent shows the touch-sensitive surface on top of the gearshift, VW is clear that the panel could go anywhere. However, the shifter is a great location because a driver’s hand is always nearby.

It can take years for patented automotive tech to arrive in showrooms, but we should see a big step in autonomous driving from Audi in 2017. The next-gen A8 can allegedly handle itself during highway traffic jams at speeds up to 37 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour).

Source: European Patent Office via AutoGuide

Gallery: VW self-driving tech patent sketches