Ford actually filed the patent in February 2016, and it was awarded to the automaker last week on August 10th, as originally reported by Motor1. It's not a perfect solution, the document notes: Designers will have to reconsider how they implement airbags, which are traditionally situated in the steering wheel. Ford's patent proposes one in both the wheel and dashboard behind it, electronically switching off the latter if the wheel column is locked in.
But it isn't just about popping a wheel in and out: This redesign would probably require major changes to an automobile's interior, both cosmetically and from a mechanical standpoint. Pretty much everything in a driver's seat has been designed around the steering wheel and column since 1908 when Ford released the Model T.
While this is only a patent, it shows that automakers are thinking hard about steering and control compromises that will let them sell autonomous vehicles in countries with different legal requirements -- along with users who might just want to take the wheel from time to time.
Update: The post originally said that the steering column is an integral part of any car's frame, which is not accurate. It has been updated with the correct information.