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Toyota Testing Joystick Control for Cars

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 33 comments

Looks like the steering wheel is heading out into the pasture with the 8-track tape and vinyl record.

Lately we've seen a few futuristic concept cars that sport aircraft-like dashboards and controls, so the news that Toyota is experimenting with joystick control isn't all that surprising. Frankly, gripping an airplane-type controller with two hands seems a bit more safer, however the joystick scenario--along with collision-detection artificial intelligence--may be the way to go in the next decade.

According to PC World, Toyota demonstrated the joystick control in a few concept cars today at the Tokyo Motor Show. The site describes the first concept car, the FT-EV II, as an electric car built for short trips. Despite its extreme compact design, the car provides seating for four passengers, and uses drive-by-wire technology that enables the dual-stick (one for the left-handed, one for the right-handed perhaps) joystick control.

PC World also said that the second concept car, the i-Real, looked more like a futuristic chair on wheels than an actual automobile. This concept car also uses two joysticks developed by Tokai Rika, one at the end of each armrest. This vehicle provides seating for only one passenger, and uses no pedals whatsoever.

PC World added that developer Tokai Rika displayed two additional prototypes at its booth as well, with one system using only one joystick. Moving the joystick left and right turned the car in the intended direction, while pushing the joystick forward accelerated the car, and pulling back slowed it down. The other prototype incorporated thumb buttons that controlled the acceleration and braking. Scary.

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  • 7 Hide
    frozenlead , October 21, 2009 8:41 PM
    It would be better if the accelerator and directional controls were split among two control sticks (more like an aircraft).

    I'd have to try it to say something about it. It's hard to think something would replace the wheel...but then again, the automatic transmission has practically replaced the manual one. It's not as an extreme shift as going from a wheel to a stick, but just an example.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 21, 2009 8:44 PM
    It's like the Men In Black 2 movie; when the "flying car" is driven by using a PS2 simil joystick!!!! hehehe
  • 1 Hide
    mlopinto2k1 , October 21, 2009 8:46 PM
    I don't know about the whole acceleration/brake idea, MAYBE for steering. I don't know about that either. I like to be able to "HOLD" onto something while I am steering especially when I need to make split decisions to avoid a collision and such. Well, to each is own.
  • Display all 33 comments.
  • 8 Hide
    jellico , October 21, 2009 8:47 PM
    Ok, I hate to throw a bucket of cold water on the flames of innovation but... why? Has the steering wheel suddenly become inadequate to the task of controling the direction of an automobile? I submit that it would take a LONG time for people to embrace this technology since the steering wheel has been around longer than most people have been alive. Any attempts to force this... evolution... would result in a massive increase in the number of traffic accidents since people would likely become confused in an emergency maneuver situation (muscle memory usually takes over in situations like that).

    On the positive side, this would be great for handicapt drivers.
  • 1 Hide
    jednx01 , October 21, 2009 9:07 PM
    Nice article.... But really, do you guys even edit your articles any more? "a bit more safer"?! Grammar guys, grammar.
  • 6 Hide
    ktasley , October 21, 2009 9:07 PM
    with two hands seems a bit more safer...
  • 3 Hide
    RADIO_ACTIVE , October 21, 2009 9:12 PM
    ktasleywith two hands seems a bit more safer...

    I have to agree
  • 7 Hide
    ikefu , October 21, 2009 9:13 PM
    My concern: what happens when the automatic steering goes out or the a cable to the joystick frays/disconnects.

    In a car today, if the steering pump goes out you can still turn the car with the steering wheel (although with a lot more strength needed) since its directly attached to the wheel assemblies. If you have a joystick and its stops working and no passenger to take over then you're toast.

    Maybe there is a good answer for that one, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.
  • 2 Hide
    aje21 , October 21, 2009 9:14 PM
    Mercedes tested this idea years ago and found that new drivers could learn to control the car more quickly (and with better control) using a joystick vs. wheel and pedals (cars were automatic transmission in both cases). Much like the joystick on modern fighter aircraft it used force-sensing rather than movement when steering, but I seem to recall it had some fore-aft movement for braking and acceleration.
  • 2 Hide
    tayb , October 21, 2009 9:17 PM
    Irrelevant. We won't be driving our own cars by the time something like this could ever become main stream. I give it 20 years at the most before humans are taken out of the driving equation.
  • 7 Hide
    pooflinger1 , October 21, 2009 9:34 PM
    I think this could be really hand, especially to long distance truck drivers. One of the problems with the traditional steering wheel is fatigue. On long trips, your arm muscles will and do get tired of being in an elevated position. If you had a joystick at the end of an arm rest, it would be MUCH more ergonomic just like sitting at the correct height at your computer. You also have the ability to make much quicker movements since to turn your wheels completely to the side for example, you tilt the stick a bit and you're there. No more turning the wheel two full rotations etc.

    Would it take getting used to? Yes. But I do see a lot of benefits. Safety is also another one. You no longer have you hands/arms next to an airbag, and you can place the airbag at a further distance from the drivers head.
  • 6 Hide
    thejerk , October 21, 2009 9:39 PM
    Removing the steering wheel and pedals would actually make cars safer by eliminating the steering column from causing chest injuries and the pedal set causing leg and foot injuries. Moving the controls to a more outboard location (joysticks at the end of each seat armrest) also allows more efficient packaging in terms of vehicle length or, at least, an increase of passenger room for current designs. Having an electric or electrohydraulic fly-by-wire control system could also reduce the weight and size of the steering rack, or eliminate it altogether if the steering system acted directly on the ball joints and steering knuckles. There are many reasons to incorporate this control set. I do like my wheel and pedals, however.
  • 2 Hide
    tntom , October 21, 2009 9:43 PM
    The Construction Industry has been using joysticks for years now. Excavators, skid steer loaders, track loaders and bulldozers to name a few. Works great for that environment where quick response is needed at low speeds. But joysticks are easy to bump and transmit even subtle incidental movement because of their small throws.
  • 1 Hide
    ssalim , October 21, 2009 9:57 PM
    Not gonna fly. To drive properly, you need to use both hands and concentrate... not one hand holding the joystick and the other holding your boyfriend's (or spouse's) "joystick." Lol.
  • 0 Hide
    omnimodis78 , October 21, 2009 10:02 PM
    So I take it then that Toyota plans to do away with manual transmission (at least in conjunction with this concept)? I mean, wouldn't the driver have to still use a clutch, and if so, they would have to always release the joystick back into its neutral position? I'm sure they thought of this, plus if this concept actually gets into real world cars, we'll have to retrain ourselves, but at this moment, I don't see why this needs to happen. How about more efficient engines, there's still lots of progress to be done in that department.
  • 3 Hide
    d_kuhn , October 21, 2009 10:03 PM
    This comes up every once in a while... and on the surface it seems logical... planes use sticks and they're WAY more complicated than cars. Helicoptors use sticks and they're WAY more complicated than planes.

    But it won't work on cars and never will. The reason WHY it won't work is the same reason a mouse works so much better than a joystick for first person shooters. A Steering wheels rotation linearly correlates to wheel rotation. You rotate the wheel 20 degrees, your wheel rotates 5 degrees... it requires zero mental gymnastics to understand the relationship.

    There are two ways a joystick could be used to replace a wheel. In the first way, the stick position works like a steering wheel, push it left 1/2" and your wheels turn left 5 degrees, push it left 1" and your wheels move to 10 degrees left, etc. This is intuitive and would work ok... but you'd have VERY limited range of motion compared to a steering wheel (which can rotate a couple of times 360 degrees to cover the +/- 90'ish degrees of your wheels). This method is at least moderately workable... but for basically no gain (coolness I guess) you'd be sacrificing a LOT of control precision as well as mechanical linkage (IMO a VERY bad idea... fly by wire is great when you have the money for 4x redundancy... not when made by our recall happy auto manufacturers).

    The other way would be to have stick motion translate into wheel rotation velocity, which is how first person shooters use controller joysticks (we all know how well that works). That means in order to calculate input position, we lowly humans would need to be able to integrate position over time in our heads... in realtime... to control the car position... while applying several feedforward inputs. A purpose built control could do this... humans can also do it at low speeds where there's lots of time to apply feedback corrections (for instance if you're running one of those huge mine trucks that go 5 mph). Humans wouldn't be able to do it at highway speeds. As an added bonus - you get the same loss of mechnanical linkage here too. Another bad idea.

    Car companies - Just leave the mechanically coupled steering wheel alone... I don't feel like dying because my fly by wire steering decided all of a sudden that I wanted to go 90 degrees left at 75mph.
  • 0 Hide
    groveborn , October 21, 2009 10:13 PM
    I would almost prefer a smaller wheel where they would put this joystick. It would be less prone to bumping it (which WILL happen on bumpy rides!). I wouldn't mind a nice throttle lever as well. My legs get very tired after an hour of pushing on a pedal. Heck, why not put this all on a game pad so we can steer and control the speed, radio, and all sorts of other things in any configuration we desire? I can't think of the perfect device, but I'm sure it would be a simple matter to use some sort of analog button for speed and such. Maybe make the joystick twist for sudden turns?
  • 0 Hide
    IzzyCraft , October 21, 2009 10:27 PM
    Joy stick LAME call me back when you got a touchpad/ or some sorta mouse/trackball thingy going on that i can just use with my right hand nice and rested were the cup holders are.
  • 1 Hide
    redgarl , October 21, 2009 10:32 PM
    About time we got at least a NES controller for car driving...
  • 0 Hide
    Supertrek32 , October 21, 2009 11:43 PM
    I don't like the idea... at all. You hit a bump in the road and your friend drops his drink. It hits your hand and your car tries to turn 90 degrees at 45 mph. It's far too easy to make a mistake with a joystick since there's less room for error. With a steering wheel, even the slightest turns require a "big" movement of a few inches. With a joystick it would be quarter-inches.

    And that's not even taking into account the fact everyone would need to re-learn how to drive.
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