Are Aircraft Yokes Suitable for Automobiles?

In the realm of aviation, the yoke is a type of control wheel or column that may be used by pilots to operate fixed-wing aircraft. While not universal, yokes are extremely popular and come in the form of a W- or U-shaped control situated in the cockpit in an area very accessible by pilots for regular use. Despite the airplane yoke being a feature primarily found in fixed-wing aircraft, such controls are beginning to make their way into various automobiles as well. As automobiles travel and operate in a very different way, it begs the question of how viable an airplane yoke is for an automobile when compared to the conventional steering wheel.

In recent years, automobile manufacturers Lexus and Tesla have begun implementing yokes into some of their new car models, these controls coming in the form of a U-shaped yoke with two hand grips placed on each side of a central hub. These fixtures greatly differ from the typical steering wheel design that of which has been an industry standard for around a hundred years now. Even with the addition of buttons, dials, and other various features, there has been little change to the tried and true steering interface until the debut of the automobile yoke.

In an aircraft, yokes are designed according to the motions that aircraft can undertake. With a quarter-turn of the yoke in various directions, an aircraft can effectively achieve its entire range of steering. As such, a turn does not require much pivoting of the yoke control. This is very different in automobiles, as such vehicles often require the driver to turn the wheel upwards of 720 degrees to make certain turns. With a circular steering wheel, this motion is easy, as the driver either follows a hand-over-hand movement or a rim-slide process to effectively rotate the wheel as required. With a yoke, the driver will lose the ability to maintain a consistent grip or motion due to a lack of natural hand placements, and this can make it more difficult to carry out tight maneuvers or hairpin turns.

To remedy this concern, Lexus has developed a steer-by-wire system to their RZ electric SUV that allows for typical driving motions to be carried out with less steering wheel movement. What this means is that when one wishes to undertake a turn that generally requires multiple rotations of the wheel, only 150 degrees of rotation would be necessary. This is made possible through the use of an installed computer that translates driver inputs into front wheel control adjustments. Tesla has not followed suit in this endeavor, instead requiring one to conduct awkward, choppy turns where drivers have reported instances of handle slipping and grip difficulty. As a result, one can argue that yokes are not suitable for automobiles unless they follow in Lexus’ footsteps with the steer-by-wire system.

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