This is to this:
As this is to this:
Why hasn’t the car’s interface changed? Imagine if the car were being designed today:
CEO Automotive-Industrial Complex: Good morning. what are we working on today?
Concerned Underling: Stopping. It’s pretty important that the driver be able to stop the car. What kind of interface should we use?
CEO AIC: Hmm. I like feet. Let’s use them.
Underling: Are you crazy? There’s almost no other task humans use their feet for! Feet have a fraction as many nerves as hands. They’re clumsy, insensitive and far from the brain.
CEO AIC: You’re clumsy and insensitive and far from a brain. Write that down. Now. I want to mount the foot controls in a place where the driver can’t see them.
CEO AIC: No talking. I’m also going to put the accelerator control right next to the brake and have the two pedals look and feel eerily similar…
Underling: Well, I quit! This pedal idea will never take off.
CEO AIC: You can’t quit. You’re fired!! Mwahahaha…
The world of car safety has had many focuses. Crashes were attenuated: frames have been made stiffer, crumple zones crumplier, seat belts made compulsory. We have also worked on avoiding the crashes, by legislating sobriety for drivers and putting traction control into the car itself. But even a sober driver in a computer aided car is limited by reaction time.
We need this:
Putting the accelerator and brake into one device makes sense. It means we don’t have to move our hand or foot from one to the other when we want to change speed.
In addition, hands are closer to the brain, full of nerves, and make faster reactions than feet (reference). Having a hand-operated brake would cut reaction times by 17 milliseconds (reference). This translates to 4.72 metres at 100 km/h, and doesn’t include any time taken to move the foot from the accelerator to the brake.
The stopping distance of a Toyota Camry going at 90km/h is 43.5 metres. A saving of 4.72 metres is about 10 percent of that. We can say then that 10 percent of crashes would be avoided with a hand-operated brake, and that ten percent of crashes that would have been at a fatal speed will now be at a non-fatal speed. Reaction time is an even greater proportion of the stopping distance at lower speeds, so a joystick brake would prevent a greater proportion of lower speed crashes.
People are prepared to go to great lengths for car safety. We drive like snails through school zones. We pay heaps extra for lumbar cushioning and airbags. We senselessly murder hundreds of our Scandinavian friends with the yellow and black circles (they’re all Swedish right?) annually, all in the name of automotive safety.
If you were designing a car from scratch, you wouldn’t put the stop and go buttons out of view, in the dark, and have both of them operated with one foot. It’s a retarded way, that I bet is some legacy from how cars were first designed.
People think they love the pedals, and come up with all sort of ex-post rationalisations for their retention. They’ll tell you how good they are at braking, how people sometimes take their hands off the steering wheel, or how they’d get RSI in their wrist.
But the only big reason to not go immediately to a joystick acceleration model is what to do with your steering. Unlike the pedals, the steering wheel is a pretty good system. In some ways it makes sense to have steering controlled by hand as well. So:
Would you integrate it all into one system, like a computer game joystick, so the accelerator was also the brake and the steering?
Here’s a prototype from Mercedes Benz, the Yeni
Or, have a joystick for the steering / braking controls and just the accelerator under foot?
Every alternative system would have its downsides, but fundamentally a hand applied brake system will be speedier than a foot-operated one. Although obviously, like a steering wheel, you’d have to make it operable with only one hand, or it would make texting while drinking coffee even more dangerous….
Your comments are appreciated!