Climbing into a specially adapted left-hand-drive Saab 9000 automatic with a conventional dashboard carrying normal instruments, was an unusual and memorable experience. Ahead of me, instead of a familiar steering wheel, there was a giant head, face and knee airbag (located where the steering column would usually be) with a central joystick, similar to those used in aircraft and gaming. Controls for the wipers, lighting, indicators, and so on where comfortably relocated into a cluster on the door panel.
After a blisteringly quick lap around the Lotus Hethal test track with a Swedish Prometheus engineering colleague behind the ‘wheel’, to demonstrate just how easy it was to control the Saab with a joystick, it was my turn to take the helm.
My first few faltering metres in the 9000 were an embarrassing zig-zag down the straight, over-compensating for every directional change with the joystick. However, after a surprisingly short time and distance, maneuvering the Saab with the joystick control became totally intuitive and was a pleasurable and rewarding experience, one that today’s younger ‘joystick generation’ would feel totally at home with.
The rapidly-approaching development of the fully automated driverless car, however, has now leap-frogged the need and potential for a joystick system to control a vehicle, so the time, energy and money invested in the feasibility of this technology was alas all to no avail, unlike some of the other new advances developed under the Prometheus programme.
The second Saab 9000 prototype I also drove at Lotus that same day may have been a clearer glimpse into the future of motoring, with a revolutionary suspension system, but more of that anon in a future weekly Anorak here, so please do stay tuned.