STUTTGART - DaimlerChrysler AG has been testing drive-by-wire technology, which eventually may eliminate the need for steering wheels and pedals, on a group of 17 year olds in Berlin.
DaimlerChrysler engineers believe future cars may be controlled by a joystick, which will handle steering, throttle and braking functions. While the technology is available from the aerospace industry and is common on computer games, changing the driving habits of generations of motorists will be the biggest hurdle.
Selling the idea to a new generation that has grown up with computer and video games will be much easier, DaimlerChrysler believes.
The automaker has been testing the idea at its driving simulator in Berlin with two groups of teen-agers. Although many of the youths had used joysticks on computer games, none had significant driving experience. One group learned to drive with joystick controllers, while the other learned to drive with conventional controls. After two hours of lessons, the two groups were given identical driving tasks. Although there was no significant difference in the time it took for either group to learn to drive, there were interesting results when it came to critical situations.
Ulrich Hipp, who supervises DaimlerChrysler's New Cockpit Controls project, said eight of the 32 test drivers using conventional controls would have been involved in accidents had they been driving in the real world, while not one of the joystick group had a problem.
'These initial simulation tests have demonstrated that control via sticks is in no way inferior to conventional controls with regard to functional capability, handling, safety and driving comfort,' he said.
'In fact the opposite is true: As the steering ratio and steering forces are variable and can be adapted to the driving situation, the wheels can be turned faster and easier than with a steering wheel when parking or maneuvering.'
The control sticks, developed by Fokker Control Systems, sense forward and backward pressure but do not move. Despite the system's technical feasibility, though, don't expect it to become commonplace anytime soon. In addition to the inhibitors of cost and acceptance, regulations in many countries require steering to be mechanical.