Toyota developing PS3-compatible “black box”

Scion FR-S front-three quarter viewDriving simulators, like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsports, are fun because they allow gamers to drive exotic cars they couldn’t normally get their hands on. But what if someone wants to drive their real car in the game? That could happen soon, because Toyota is developing a “black box” for its GT86 (a.k.a. Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ) that will record data from track days and put it on an owner’s PlayStation 3.

Professional race teams use telemetric data to quantify a driver’s lap, since the sensors can pick up small changes in throttle and brake application that. At the same time, many normal cars have data recorders, or black boxes, to determine the cause of crashes. Linking this technology with video games, Toyota thinks, will give drivers a new way to interact with their cars.

Toyota is mapping tracks around the world for the virtual component of the system. The company did not say what data the black boxes would record, but lap times, top speed, and average speed seem likely, since they are crucial for online bragging rights. Toyota did say that the system will include online tutorials and demonstrations, which should help drivers improve their lap times.

Toyota did not say when the system will go on sale, but it will be available on all three versions of the Toyota-Subaru sports car. For now, it looks like it will be sold on new Toyota GT86s in Japan and Europe, and be available for retrofitting onto older GT86s, Scion FR-Ss and Subaru BRZs.

In theory, the black box could turn a GT86 owner into a one-person race team. Drivers who spend a lot of time at the track could compare data from different laps to see where they need improvement. They could also watch their laps on a PS3 to see how they look. However, practicing on the PlayStation may not help, since driving in a simulator and driving on a real track are two very different experiences.

The phrase “video game-like” is used by road testers to describe high-performance cars that leave the driver out of the loop. Electronics improve performance and step in when drivers make mistakes, but they sometimes leave drivers feeling like they are in, well, a video game. The GT86 and its siblings are not at all like this, which is why this black box system is so ironic. Toyota (and Subaru) spent years developing a car that is fun to drive in real life, and now that car is the first to cross over to the world of gaming.

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