Goodbye steering wheel, here comes drive-by-joystick

Toyota shows a couple of concept vehicles with joystick control systems

Tokai Rika's dual-joystick prototype

Tokai Rika's dual-joystick prototype

Today it's the stuff of video games but Toyota is experimenting with joystick control for a new breed of compact cars and transporters. The world's biggest car maker built the technology into a couple of concept vehicles that were on display Wednesday at the Tokyo Motor Show.

The FT-EV II, which got its world premiere at the event, is a compact electric vehicle designed for short trips. The car retains seats for four passengers despite being much more compact than most other cars and packs drive-by-wire technology so it can be controlled with a joystick.

The car features a pair of joysticks that duplicate one another's movements so it doesn't matter which one is pushed, pulled or turned to control the car.

The car's steering, braking and acceleration can be controlled by hand so foot pedals aren't needed, freeing up space to provide more legroom for the driver.

The i-Real, a second concept that has been shown before, also utilizes two joysticks. It's a single-person transporter that looks like a futuristic chair on wheels. The joysticks are at the end of each armrest.

The joystick control system in Toyota's i-Real was developed by component maker Tokai Rika, which was showing it and two other prototype control systems on its booth at the motor show. Like the i-Real system, the other two prototypes have no pedals.One prototype employed a single joystick. Left and right movements of the stick steered the vehicle -- in this case a digital car on a driving simulator screen -- while acceleration and braking was accomplished by pushing it forwards and pulling in back.Another prototype looks like a pilot's yoke on an aircraft. It has a couple controls on the inside of each of the grips that can be operated with a thumb to control the acceleration and braking.

All the systems are prototypes and there's no word on when any will be coming to market.

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Martyn Williams

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