The creator of legendary racing simulator Gran Turismo believes the electronic power-assisted steering (EPAS) systems fitted to modern road cars could be improved by technology used in his video games.
The steering wheel controllers used by serious players of Kazunori Yamauchi's long-running Gran Turismo franchise mimic those of a real car, and have evolved to a point where they provide ‘force feedback’ – allowing the controller to push back against a driver’s hands in the same way a real car’s steering wheel might under load.
Mr Yamauchi believes steering feedback in video games has surpassed the real thing in many modern cars.
"There are not that many cars out there right now that have a very good steering feel," Mr Yamauchi told CarAdvice at round one of the FIA Certified Gran Turismo Championship in Sydney earlier this month.
With the emergence of EPAS systems, many modern cars have been criticised for having ‘dull’ steering that provides little feedback to the driver when compared to more older-fashioned hydraulic power assistance systems.
The EPAS system in modern cars works using a sensor behind the steering wheel, controlling an electric motor attached to the steering rack. This is compared to older systems that use hydraulic pressure from a pump to assist in steering.
A steering wheel game controller relies on a sensor reading how far the wheel has been rotated. The information is fed into the game's physics engine, which then calculates how much resistance a car would apply and sends it back out through the controller in an instant.
While force feedback technology in controllers is not new, improvements in hardware and in-game physics engines have seen the gap between them and the real thing shrink over time.
"Our official steering wheel, the Thrustmaster T-GT,” Mr Yamauchi said, “the torque that steering wheel can produce [as force feedback] is actually more than a real car.
"We’ve really worked hard on reproducing the grain of the surface that you’re driving on [in Gran Turismo] as feedback onto your hands."
The T-GT controller can register the steering wheel in 65,536 different positions throughout its sweep lock-to-lock and apply resistance as dictated by the game. The amount of resistance varies based on the type of car and tyre, the type of road or track, and what the driver is doing.
“The amount of information you can get from the [T-GT] in terms of precision and feedback is actually higher than a lot of EPS systems on real cars today,” Mr Yamauchi added.
“I actually think at the rate we’re (improving), it might be interesting to take that technology being used for a video game controller and feed it back to the EPS systems of real cars. I’m interested in doing that.”
Mr. Yamauchi told CarAdvice he pitches the concept to Toyota "every once in a while".
This is not the first time an entirely-electric steering concept has been explored in production cars.
In 2013, Infiniti announced its Direct Adaptive Steering which did away with a conventional steering rack entirely, opting for a sensor behind the steering wheel that communicated to the front wheels how much angle was required – almost identical to the technology found in a steering wheel controller.