Forget a steering wheel - new Toyota inspired by horses

Image caption The FV2 concept vehicle has four wheels that shift position according to the driver's body movements

Toyota has suggested motorists of the future could ride about in a vehicle inspired by a horse.

It has announced a concept car that drivers would control by shifting their body weight while standing, doing away with the need for a steering wheel.

One analyst said the current design posed too many safety issues, but did point towards future developments.

The FV2 vehicle will make its official debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in two weeks' time.

'Imagination piece'

Toyota suggested leaning forwards, backwards or to the side to determine the FV2's direction would be "intuitive", adding that voice and facial recognition sensors would bring up information to assist users in their journeys.

Suggested destinations and other data would be shown on an augmented reality display presented on the windscreen, it said.

The aim was to develop aspects of trust and understanding between the vehicle and the rider "similar to those a rider will have with a horse".

Image caption Toyota says it could be five years or more before it uses the technologies suggested for the FV2

"This is an imagination piece rather than something that will be seen in production in the next few years," a spokesman told the BBC.

"But some of the technologies we're suggesting could be introduced further down the line - say in five to 10 years' time."

Testing the water

Carmakers often release images and models of imagined futuristic vehicles to coincide with motor shows.

Although they are sometimes little more than a publicity stunt, they can be valuable as a way of seeking early feedback and helping determine where research and development funds should be invested.

Image caption Toyota says it was inspired by the emotional connection riders have with their horses

It can still take a long time for successful ideas to come to fruition.

For example, Toyota first showed off the idea of making a hybrid - combining both an internal combustion engine and an electrical propulsion system - in 1977 when it unveiled a special version of its Sports 800 GT at the Tokyo show.

Image caption Toyota is investigating the idea of incorporating augmented reality graphics into its windscreens

It was 20 years later that it released its first hybrid for sale to the public - the Prius - in Japan.

Other examples of tech first seen in concept vehicles include panoramic glass roofs, now found in some Renault and Mercedes cars among others, and using touchscreen panels to do away with dashboard buttons, as is the case in Tesla's Model S.

New thinking

One expert said the Toyota's latest design was intended to address a problem worrying the industry at large.

"Lots of carmakers are very frightened by the fact many young people can't afford a car and insurance, and the whole concept of a traditional motor vehicle doesn't really appeal to them," said Paul Newton from the consultants IHS Automotive.

"I think in practical terms the FV2 won't see the light of day - if you are standing up and leaning to move it, my first thought would be, what if you hit something? The likelihood of it being licensed in today's safety-conscious environment is zero.

Image caption Mitsubishi is among the other manufacturers that will show off concept vehicles in Tokyo

"But concepts are the proving ground for lots of technologies that do come into mainstream production, and many things will happen in the next 25 years that will redefine what we've probably spent a good part of century looking at as the norm."

Mitsubishi, Nissan, Suzuki and Honda are among the other firms who have announced they will be unveiling concept vehicles at the Tokyo Motor Show, which runs from 22 November to 1 December.

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