The world of automotive steering systems is currently experiencing a significant shift as automakers explore alternative designs to the traditional steering wheel. Tesla recently made waves with its introduction of a steering yoke for the Model S and Model X, while Lexus is moving forward with its own version as part of a steer-by-wire system. However, a recent Ferrari patent application has hinted at an even more radical steering system – one controlled by joysticks.
Published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Nov. 16 and originally filed on May 8, the patent filing describes a system for controlling a car with two joysticks. The system is designed to allow the driver to control the direction the car turns and the yaw angle, or how sideways it gets, by moving the joysticks in combination. Acceleration and braking could be controlled by traditional pedals, or using buttons or triggers mounted on the joysticks, according to Ferrari.
The concept of a joystick-controlled car is not entirely new. Saab once built a prototype car with a joystick as part of a European program aimed at improving car safety. However, the joystick proved difficult to use and was quickly dropped. Ferrari, however, seems confident in the feasibility of their joystick control system, citing the existing use of joysticks to control forklifts as a supporting example.
While Ferrari is a little vague on the advantages of such a system, they claim that it is technically viable. However, a previous attempt at joystick control does raise questions about its practicality in a production car. The challenges presented by the use of a joystick for car control are not fully addressed by Ferrari, leaving some room for skepticism.
Ferrari’s dismissal of the yoke steering system, used by Tesla and Lexus, as a purely stylistic choice is noteworthy. According to Ferrari, the yoke cannot perform its intended function in a car, as it is typically used in aircraft where it can be pushed forward or backward to control pitch, or the angle of the nose in relation to the ground. This distinction offers insight into the technical limitations and considerations that underlie the development of unconventional steering systems.
While the future of Ferrari’s joystick control system is uncertain, it is clear that alternative steering designs are gaining traction in the automotive industry. Tesla’s use of a steering yoke in the Model S and Model X, as well as Lexus’s implementation of the yoke as part of a steer-by-wire system in the upcoming Lexus RZ 450e electric crossover, indicate a growing interest in non-traditional steering mechanisms. However, the availability of the Lexus yoke in the U.S. remains uncertain, signaling potential regulatory and market challenges in adopting these innovative designs.
In conclusion, the automotive industry is witnessing a period of experimentation and innovation in steering system design. The exploration of alternative control mechanisms such as joysticks and yokes reflects a desire to rethink and redefine the driving experience. While the practical viability and consumer acceptance of these unconventional steering systems remain to be seen, it is clear that the pursuit of innovation in automotive design continues to push the boundaries of tradition and convention.