You know that horrible feeling when you’re out on a sand dune or a rocky feature and you get your truck, maybe a Ford F-150, gets stuck. Try as you might, you just can’t drive your way out of it because your tires just don’t have enough traction or the climb is too steep. What about situations where you need maximum turning that isn’t possible by a sharp turn of the steering wheel? Ford might be coming to the rescue with two interesting patents on a “tank turn” strategy that can be downloaded from the cloud, and integrated “sand ladders” that could be integrated into your step bars or—in the case of the Bronco—into the doors.
First spotted by Motor Authority, the two patents are great ways to get a Ford (or any truck or SUV, really) out of a bad situation. The sand ladders, in particular, are the easiest to turn into reality for the entire Ford truck lineup while the tank turn might be a little more difficult. It’s not as simple as locking up a brake caliper to allow the vehicle to turn sharply.
Tank Turn Truck
It’s as literal as you can get with a four-wheeled truck, as this patent describes the tank turn system that makes the vehicle turn on its central axis. Unlike the turn brake on the Bronco and Rivian’s version of the spinning truck trick, the tank turn that Ford has patented will not only drive each axle in the opposite direction (ie: front axle in reverse, rear axle in forward), but also apply the brakes and unload the suspension on opposing corners depending on which direction you want to turn. Turning left, the right front and left rear brakes are applied while their suspension gets unloaded while driving the front wheels in reverse and the rear wheels forward. Turning to the right affects the left front and right rear corners but the wheels drive in the same direction.
Why won’t this be easily applied, even though Ford describes an update in both over-the-air and by a physical download? The only real way to actively load and unload the suspension corners is with airbags, as Ford shows as an example image. A scheme we can see working is lifting the corners you don’t want to unload, ie: if you want to unload the right front and left rear, you raise the bag pressure on the left front and right rear corners to apply more of the vehicle’s weight on those corners.
It may also be possible to do this with a coil sprung vehicle, but you would need something like KW’s hydraulic lift system, which places a hydraulic cylinder between the coil spring and the lower spring perch. Either way, that system would need to be installed in order to do that loading action. An airbag system makes somewhat more sense as you could add auxiliary bags to the rear leaf springs on a truck with those installed, but you’d need to either do something similar to the front coil springs (not unheard of in the aftermarket) or replace the coils with airbags entirely.
The next major hurdle is driving the axles in opposite directions. Unless you add some sort of selectable reversing gear at the front axle input or at the front driveshaft output on the transfer case, it won’t be possible to drive the wheels in opposite directions at the same time. Again, something like this could technically be feasibly installed (while requiring a shorter driveshaft), but we’re actually not aware of any aftermarket solution that could be adopted now, even for an Atlas transfer case or similar twin-stick transfer case. However the use case described by Ford in the patent states that, “Some vehicles such as, for example, automobiles, are equipped with electric motors rather than traditional combustion engines.” Clearly, this is meant for Ford’s Lightning and future electric trucks, if the feature becomes reality, at all.
The more realistic patent for all of Ford’s off-roading vehicles is its sand ladder systems. Sand ladders are such useful things, but storing them can be such a PITA in a truck or SUV fully loaded with camping gear. While there are aftermarket sand ladder carriers that attach to the body or roof, Ford details more useful attachment points. One would be using it as a step to help getting into the cab of the vehicle. It would either be long enough to reach all four doors or an extension would be added for the rear doors.
Ford also shows two ways it would attach to the rocker panel step brackets. One way would be a locking hook and C-channel catch. The hook would be operated to release half of the ladder while the other side would rest in the catch. Once released, you can lift and slide out the ladder for use.
The other uses captured hardware with a keyhole, like how many wall brackets work that you have in your house. You would loosen the fastener with a large spacer or washer and slide it from its smaller opening to its larger one of the keyhole made into the sand ladder. This allows you to lift the ladder up and out and without worrying about losing that loose hardware as it stays with the step brackets. Once done, you make sure the fasteners are positioned to fit through the large openings, set the ladder down on the brackets, reposition the fasteners to the smaller side, and tighten to secure them to use as steps again.
The big Blue Oval also shows other ways to mound the sand ladders besides being used as rocker steps. One image shows shorter ladders stored under the hood of a Raptor-looking image. Another pair shows smaller and shorter ladders stored on the front grille or lower bumper opening with a single ladder. Depending on which opening you use, additional opening and even holes in the bumper would need to be added to make up for the reduced aperture the sand ladders would create. An additional image shows off a narrow, tailgate-mounted ladder while a final image shows these ladders mounted to tube doors on a four-door Bronco drawing.
Remember, These Are Just Patents
As we often say with patents from any manufacturer, these aren’t indications that any of these parts or features will be coming soon. Even so, we’d be surprised if the tank turn didn’t end up being added to the Ford F-150 Lightning. It’s nearly already set up to do it and an OTA update could get all of the modules to work as intended and add a virtual switch to the infotainment screen. If they do it now, at the time of original writing, they would beat Rivian to the tank turn punch as it hasn’t implemented their version on the R1T, yet. We also see an easy argument that the step-style sand ladders could be easily created, especially using the keyhole and captured fasteners detailed in the patent for it. Either way, Ford has some ideas coming to make off-roading easier for their truck owners and we can’t wait to make use of all of them.
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