Car Clips: Aug. 14, 2000

August 14, 2000

Joy sticks for cars

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Here's a hint to make your next museum visit more interesting. Take a look at the early turn of the century autos and try to figure out how the controls were manipulated. One thing that you will learn is that there was no common control mechanisms on the early cars. Drivers sat on the right, left and in the center and used a confusing variety of pedals and levers to actuate the mechanisms. Steering was also performed by tillers, levers, wheels and even reins. The wheel became standardized, largely due to the forces required before power steering and the danger of ruts causing a lever or tiller to flail around.

Now DaimlerChrysler has taken a fresh look and proposes that the wheel can be replaced more effectively by a joy stick control, just like in jet fighters. The stick would be mounted in the center console, just about where the shifter is today. A simple push forward would put the car in motion, and a pull back would provide reverse. Angling the stick left and right would turn the front wheels (or maybe steer both sets!).

There would be many advantages. Weight and complexity would be greatly reduced, and provide a big plus to fuel and emission efficiency. In the event of an accident, the added space would allow a larger airbag and there would be no wheel or pedals to cause injury. The center mounting would even allow a front seat passenger to drive if the driver was temporarily preoccupied. And if the instruments are located in the middle (as some hybrid cars have them) a driver could just switch sides when traveling from England to the Continent. I've tried several examples, including a large truck, and find it easy to adapt, only taking a few minutes for it to feel perfectly natural. With the video trained generation getting on the road, these joy sticks should be no impediment unless you're a techno phobe.

On-the-road simulations

After a rigorous series of tests, PatrolSim(tm) driving simulators at the Fresno Police Department have received final certification by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). The driving simulator uses state-of-the-art systems to provide a highly realistic training environment that incorporates different vehicle dynamics, preset and user-programmable traffic scenarios, and sophisticated road surface conditions to ensure a true-to-life experience. Since police come from all kinds of backgrounds, and are exposed to some of the most rigorous driving situations, this can provide simplified training, and allow departments to assess skill and judgement levels. The space program, airlines, military and railroads use simulators and have found that they are effective skill enhancement and evaluation devices, saving lives and equipment.

I have written an open letter to Bill Gates, commenting on the desirability to help teenagers develop judgement skills that match their self-perceived driving skills. In light of Gates' social initiatives and his resources this would be one of the most wonderful applications that could be developed. I've received a favorable reply, and commend his interest. I-Sim Corporation is a developer of high-performance wheeled-vehicle simulators for driver training in the law enforcement, trucking, military, research and emergency-vehicle markets. For more information about I-Sim and its products, visit the company's Web site at

NASCAR does the Derby?

After my recent report on NASCAR and the All-American Soap Box Derby, the word around Akron is that the NASCAR folks are considering endorsing and/or underwriting the Soap Box Derby program. They are even considering enclosed-wheel body changes. Could this mean Excide, Dupont and Goodwrench colors racing on Derby Downs?


Bob welcomes comments or questions at

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