Tesla's new steering yoke looks futuristic but lacks practicality

Shawn Knight

Posts: 13,619   +139
Staff member
The big picture: People generally don’t like change, so when you go and tinker with something that’s been the norm for generations, you’re undoubtedly going to ruffle some feathers. Take the steering wheel, for example. For as long as vehicles have been on roads, they’ve been round. Sure, sizes and materials have changed over the years, but the general shape has always remained a constant. The latest Tesla vehicles to roll off the assembly line, however, toss a monkey wrench into the equation.

I was in awe of Tesla’s new steering yoke from the moment I laid eyes on it, largely because it reminded me of the arcade racer RoadBlasters which used a very similar yoke back in the 80s. And of course, KITT from Knight Rider.

Jumping back to modern-day, I wondered how it might work for actual driving. Turns out, I’m not the only one to ask those questions.

Tesla claims the yoke allows drivers to better focus on driving, with no turn signal or wiper stalks to get in your way. Plus, you get a better view of the instrument panel without a wheel to obstruct your view.

While Consumer Reports (CR) conceded that the yoke does provide a panoramic view of the wide gauge cluster, the benefits more or less end there. In testing with a yoke-equipped Model S, Alex Knizek, an automotive engineer with CR, said his hands slipped off the yoke multiple times while backing out of his driveway, “which was startling.”

Traditional techniques, such as hand-over-hand turning, are also more or less impossible with a yoke as there's no guarantee if you're going to grab some part of the yoke or thin air when executing the maneuver.

Knizek also had issues at higher speeds. “Taking turns at higher speed, when the wheel is providing more significant resistance in your hand, there’s nothing to ‘catch’ if you lose your grip, so you can end up momentarily losing control mid-turn,” he added.

A female tester said her hands were too small to get a good grip on the yoke, while another who took the car on a three-hour highway trip reported hand soreness afterward.

Tesla’s implementation also eliminates the turn signal stalk that typically sits behind the wheel, and relocates the signals as flush-mounted, touch sensitive buttons on the yoke. Multiple testers said it was extremely difficult to figure out which button to press without pausing to look down at the yoke. Some even admitted to foregoing signaling altogether to avoid dealing with the buttons, which could end up pointing in the opposite direction if the yoke is turned.

Jake Fisher, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center, said the lack of a turn signal stalk bothered him even more than the wheel.

Tesla’s Model S Plaid, which comes equipped with the yoke, recently set a production EV record at Germany’s Nürburgring race track. How could Tesla set a record on a race track with a subpar yoke? As CR correctly highlights, racing on a track requires lots of short, quick adjustments versus the big, sweeping maneuvers that are often required in everyday driving on public streets.

Fisher said he was concerned if he would be able to control a yoke-equipped Tesla adequately in an emergency situation. As such, Consumer Reports is looking into additional training for its test drivers before putting the Model S through its high-speed obstacle avoidance test.

Only time will tell if Tesla sticks to its guns or reverts back to a traditional circular wheel. Given enough practice, I suspect some will eventually get used to the yoke, but others are likely going to struggle with it, especially if it isn't in their daily driver.

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JohnSmithESP

Posts: 72   +47
If you compare the grip of the wheel to something like the GT3 cars you can see that the tesla doesn't allow you to firmly grab it, seems you are putting your hand over it more than grabing it
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 2,848   +4,513
Terrible, awful choice. These wheels were avilable BREIFLY as a third party thing in the 80s when knight rider was on TV, I say breifly because they sucked arse, turning is impossible unless your full range of motion can be done in a quarter turn.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,684   +6,464
I get that Musk wants to make the interior look like an airplane, but AFAIK, a plane's yoke doesn't have more than 45 degrees of travel in either direction.

A couple of full revolutions to get full aileron would be "inconvenient" as all hell.

Anybody with more than my knowledge or experience, feel free to ring in on this.
 
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VariableSpike

Posts: 65   +86
A) The layout of the contact areas where you will grip is completely wrong for a butterfly rim like this (especially as the wheel here looks like it's just had its top half chopped off), and B) doesn't work when you have to exceed anything more than 270 degrees of rotation, as you have to lift your hands from steering wheel (not much of a problem in racing cars, massive problem when trying to do normal car things like parking)
 

brucek

Posts: 942   +1,363
When I was taught to drive, they said "put your hands at 10 and 2." I pretty much still do. I guess I won't mind once the car always drives itself though.
 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,032   +6,400
A lot of modern cars suffer from disastrous redesigns, all for the sake of pseudo-innovation, just to resell them all over again.

One of the top examples - VW Golf Mark 8, which is the good Mark 7 f-d up beyond compare, ruining 7 generations of the car legacy.
 
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Fearghast

Posts: 452   +357
Definitely not a good thing for me, I am a lazy a** driver, I can't be bothered to hold the wheel after I make a turn, I just let it sliiiiiide.
But yoke as shape is not a thing I would downright call bad, touch sensitives blinkers on the body of the yoke ... that's a "big brain" decision.
 

Beerfloat

Posts: 326   +580
Can't steer with hand resting inside bottom of ring and other hand down my shorts. I don't like it.
 

zulu53

Posts: 80   +31
Perhaps you need to redefine your definition of "big" in your use of "big picture". Cars started with 2 lever steering (currently still used for many older tanks). Most older airplanes are steered using a yoke. The really old ones planes had a round steering wheel, borrowed from cars. Modern planes have stick, allowing them to be operated by one hand - which is a real challenge for the round steering wheel. Round steering wheels were used because of the steering gearing where lock-to-lock required 360deg of steering wheel movement. Those days are long gone; pretty much every car has electric steering as the Tesla does (its an electric car duh!). The required motion of the steering device to generate motion of the steering system is a software change away. Yokes make more sense than sticks for cars only because of all of the other control mechanisms contained in the "steering device" - radio controls/phone controls. But yokes make much more sense than steering wheels since it makes it clear to the operator where to place their hands in the correct position to maintain best vehicle control, and yes 2 hands are better than one (a common cause of many vehicle accidents now is operator not being able to steer away from problems in the road ahead). Now if they only offered a stick control as an option for one handed drivers, we would be as safe as we could be without the use of the self-driving mode.
 

zulu53

Posts: 80   +31
You seem to forget that there is considerable engineering (applied science) work goes into MMI (man-machine interface) in basically all businesses producing or operating machines; and this has been going on for centuries. Cars are but a small and fairly recent subset that is used for the public at large. Yokes are better (safer) for control than wheels for getting the message from the human brain to the vehicle. Better still would be that brain (skull) cap taking the signals from the brain to car and bypassing the hands (eliminating hand reaction time and dexterity from the mix) - but this is still a work in progress.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,684   +6,464
Perhaps you need to redefine your definition of "big" in your use of "big picture". Cars started with 2 lever steering (currently still used for many older tanks). Most older airplanes are steered using a yoke. The really old ones planes had a round steering wheel, borrowed from cars. Modern planes have stick, allowing them to be operated by one hand - which is a real challenge for the round steering wheel. Round steering wheels were used because of the steering gearing where lock-to-lock required 360deg of steering wheel movement. Those days are long gone; pretty much every car has electric steering as the Tesla does (its an electric car duh!). The required motion of the steering device to generate motion of the steering system is a software change away. Yokes make more sense than sticks for cars only because of all of the other control mechanisms contained in the "steering device" - radio controls/phone controls. But yokes make much more sense than steering wheels since it makes it clear to the operator where to place their hands in the correct position to maintain best vehicle control, and yes 2 hands are better than one (a common cause of many vehicle accidents now is operator not being able to steer away from problems in the road ahead). Now if they only offered a stick control as an option for one handed drivers, we would be as safe as we could be without the use of the self-driving mode.
OK, this is mostly bullsh!t. The average road vehicle has about 900 degrees of wheel movement, lock to lock.

As far as"modern airplanes" having "sticks", this is more bullsh!t. WWII fighters, (and prior), were mostly equipped with sticks..The P-38 "Lightning" was one exception, and had a yoke

Yet here it is, big as life, the stick in an F4U "Corsair" cockpit

1acb939a8694a50bade6125ed9f8f7b8.jpg


Modern light planes use yokes, such as the Cessna 172, and they don't have anywhere near 900 degrees of travel. You're only looking to get full right to left aileron travel , and you certainly don't have to move the yoke 400 or so degrees to get it.

Here's a P-51 "Mustang" cockpit, again showing a stick, not a yoke:

150803-F-IO108-001.JPG


Neither one of these could hardly be called a, "modern aircraft".

Cessna 172 cockpit showing the dual yokes:

1632432322376.jpeg

The yoke has a travel of about 180 degrees lock to lock for the ailerons. Far too jumpy for steering a street car, at least IMO.

The F-15 still has a center stick (between the pilot's legs). The F-16 uses a side stick in conjunction with "fly by wire" control. These are both fighter aircraft, hardly what your Sunday pilot is going to jump in for a trip to the shore

And BTW, "yaw" (rudder) control is done with the feet. So on the ground steering isn't done with the yoke or stick anyway.
 
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Entrylevel

Posts: 15   +6
You seem to forget that there is considerable engineering (applied science) work goes into MMI (man-machine interface) in basically all businesses producing or operating machines; and this has been going on for centuries. Cars are but a small and fairly recent subset that is used for the public at large. Yokes are better (safer) for control than wheels for getting the message from the human brain to the vehicle. Better still would be that brain (skull) cap taking the signals from the brain to car and bypassing the hands (eliminating hand reaction time and dexterity from the mix) - but this is still a work in progress.
As someone who works in Human-Machine Interface design for aircraft, I strongly disagree with pretty much all of your statements there:
- most commercial products prioritise marketable aesthetics or cost saving over ergonomics;
- the task of piloting an aircraft is significantly different to driving a car, so it's a false equivalence to compare control inceptor design;
- the HMI needs to be considered as part of the system as a whole, and change to the control inceptor needs to have a corresponding change to the rest of the control chain;
- what is safer in one application is not necessarily safer in another;
- psychophysiological control has not been shown to be faster, more accurate or more reliable than manual control, and it may never be.
 

Austinturner

Posts: 316   +402
A yoke and ai selection of driving direction without a physical shift lever? I predict this doesn’t go down well with the market or regulators.
 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 663   +505
Yeah Nah - not for me - I get the blocked instrumentation - but don't top model cars have it projected on windscreens ?? . Circle means it can fit any style- 3-9 2-10 , one hand on 12 and arm on window , or 1 on 6 .
again never been in a race car - don't follow it - but aren't they highly geared/levered responsive - don't think that would be safe for Joe Bloggs* . Always interesting to get in an old 70s car - and the steering wheel has 1 inch play - where it does nothing - would freak youngsters out initially

* British expression for the average man in the street - not sure if known by americans