If my car had a middle name, it would be "intermittent computer problem", so would my previous car, and the one before it. I dread the idea of yet another "feature" running on a computer. I had a steering motor failure which was no big deal at all. Didn't even notice it above 20 mph. But my Body Control Module computer now fails to start the car about 1% of the time. Of course, when brought to the shop ( seven times now, and counting) it works perfectly. My vote is for more mechanical linkage, less computer.
Fly by wire technology is good if there is some centralized system over all the motor-able roads to monitor the health of the control electronic in a car and take over-riding measures to bring the car safely to the curb without disturbing the other vehicles on the road. With wireless technology this is possible. The dependability of drive-by-wire systems can be increased many fold if such monitoring systems are in place. With such systems in place not only the steering wheels but even the drivers can be made redundant someday.
I point out that a great deal of time and effort (MONEY) is spent on the airplane control systems that use joy sticks. That does not mix well with the design philosophy of automotive manufacturers.
Drive by wire is fraught with potential for disaster (just ask Toyota).
Also, how do you get feedback to the driver with a joy stick.
What if the next generation car has 4 independently controlled electric motors in the wheel hubs? Using a (fault tolerant controller) one can then emulate the traditional car. But we can do a lot more. E.g. each wheel has independent traction control (not just braking) and directional control. This allows a very high degree of manoeuvrability and active safety. However, this means the controller executes what the driver intends the vehicle to do, not the driver himself as he won't have hands enough. Rather than a steering wheel or a joy-stick, he might have two handles like in a tank that can move forward, backwards, but also sideways.
Some also mentioned that this is standard in airplanes, but let's not forget that driving a car has a lot less temporal room for corrections. Driving on a highway at 120 km/hr between two trucks is cm-work executed in sub-second intervals.
IMHO, there is nothing in a joystick that gives anything like the potential for initiating both tiny movements and major swings with the control that a wheel gives. Even with power steering, the ability to shift your grip on a wheel gives much finer control.
My guess is that before Joysticks become commonplace, there will be a huge change in the way cars are controlled. They'd have to have sensors that keep them in the lane and check back and front for other vehicles and obstacles. If you tried to change lane or turn, the electronics wouldn't let you unless it found it safe to do so. In any case, by that time the electronics of the car would be integrated with the GPS and you'd just punch in (or, more probably, speak) your destination, and the electronics would select the route, taking into account traffic conditions. I'd agree this will be quite a way off, but anyone care to say it'll never happen??
Back in the day (around 1960) Cornell University came up with the Cornell Safety Car. One feature was to put the driver in the center of the front seat (remember cars were wider then) for better visibility. Instead of a steering wheel there was an arrangement like a small bicycle handle bar that rotated perhaps through 90 degrees.
If you want a good background on electrical power steering systems, check out this feature: http://www.eetimes.com/design/automotive-design/4019429/A-Matter-of-Torque-Electric-power-steering-systems.
I am not sure I am fully comfortable with all electronic/software control in cars (at least not yet). Does anyone remember the "sudden acceleration" problems of a few years ago? I am not sure how that all got resolved in the end but I do not yet have enough confidence in all electronic controls, as it is engines are highly automated and when working are great! If there is an issue it normally results in dead vehicle, with semi-mechanical controls there is the gradual decline in function/performance which allows the operator (their dad) to get it to the shop. Don't get me wrong, I love remote control, electronic based systems (robotics) but there are some limits to what we can and should do today. Perhaps I could be more comfortable with this if there was a way to design the new electronic systems with a gradual breakdown mechanism instead of: works, works, dead.
Bill, actually have some real experience with this. I worked with a client that was helping with the software and electronic controls for a major auto maker is experimenting with joysticks, but they won't even be introduced for another 20 years... when our generation dies off. That's the reason.
Right now, we are raising up a generation that are used to joysticks and hand controllers (think of the PS3 controller in Men and Black 2), but they do not make up the majority of the market. The current majority still is more comfortable with a steering wheel and is actually unable to properly control autos equipped with joysticks. The costs of setting up manufacturing for both, right now, is a huge barrier. But once our generation is gone, the following gen will have the proper motor skiils to use the control systems. It is in the works, but we have a couple of decades before the driving populace is ready for them.