Toyota FT-1 concept trades dials and gauges for fighter-jet windshield display

toyota ft1 concept naias detroit auto show jan 2014
Image: Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

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DETROIT—Toyota’s stage looks empty. I peer around a photographer to see if I can locate the hidden door that will produce the company’s big announcement. I don’t see one.

toyota ft1 concept unveiling naias detroit auto show jan 2014 Image: Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

Apparently this wasn't a stage prop.

Music starts playing. A bright-red racecar zips across the booth-wide projection screen. Six people dressed in white Toyota jumpsuits and blacked-out helmets leap onto the stage and start pulling apart a large, red, riveted box—forgive me, I thought that was part of the stage itself. One of the chains gets caught, and a stage manager has to come out to help open the box.

And then I have to check the signage to make sure I’m at the right booth, because the car that drives out is unlike any Toyota I’ve ever seen. With its fiercely angled headlights and swooping side scoops, the Toyota FT-1 concept looks a little like what you might get if you crossed a Scion FR-S with a Lotus Elise.

toyota ft1 concept rear naias detroit auto show jan 2014 Image: Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

The FT-1 concept doesn't look ilke any Toyota you've seen up to now.

Designed by Toyota’s Calty Design Research Studio team in Newport Beach, the FT-1 (“FT” stands for “Future Toyota”) isn’t just about looks, says chief designer Alex Shen: It’s about driving. To ensure the driver stays focused on the business of driving, Toyota has created a special “slingshot cockpit.”

Head-up display keeps eyes on the road

All the technology traditionally located in the center console has been placed in a large, hexagonal head-up display (HUD) in the windshield. This HUD is special: It’s inspired by the ones in fighter jets, and it projects out ahead of the driver to keep his or her eyes focused on the road.

“When you’re in ‘the zone,’ as I like to call it, you can start to lose perspective,” project design manager William Chergosky tells me. “You’re concentrating on driving, and you lose focus. All the tech in the FT-1 is directly in front of you, and can be interacted with intuitively, so you never have to look away from the road.”

toyota ft1 concept hud naias detroit auto show jan 2014 Image: Toyota

The HUD will project data ahead of the driver's line of sight.

Unlike other HUDs, which usually display, at most, the car’s speed and tachometer, the FT-1’s HUD can show you pretty much everything. Chergosky shows me how you can rotate through different features—including music and infotainment—using the car’s four-quadrant steering wheel controls, and see the results in the HUD. You can also “dock” a selected feature in a small console screen that sits behind the steering wheel. The FT-1 has no traditional dials or gauges, and even the fuel and temperature are displayed in three-dimensional meters on either side of the steering wheel.

toyota ft1 concept interior naias detroit auto show jan 2014 Image: Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

Controls on the steering wheel manage the HUD information projected through the windshield.

The FT-1 points toward what future Toyota vehicles might look and feel like. Though it's hard to envision a Camry with a cockpit, the HUD is one way that automakers are trying to address driver distraction. And it looks cool, too.

This story, "Toyota FT-1 concept trades dials and gauges for fighter-jet windshield display" was originally published by TechHive.

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