Electronic text displays in cars have been illegal for some time, because they're too distracting, and too ripe for abuse.

Enter Hachiya Kazuhiko, a visual communication design professor for the Kyushu Institute of Design, Tokyo. He built a way to enable non-verbal communication that fits in with Japan's kawaii aesthetic: the ThanksTail.

The original ThanksTail, which Kazuhiko designed in 1996, was an interaction design project with two main parts: A dual-axis joystick controller for your dashboard, and a foot-long injection-molded plastic "tail" on a two-axis servomotor. The idea is: Install the 3 batteries, affix the only-somewhat-phallic ThanksTail above your rear window or on your roof, mount the controller to your dashboard, and you're ready to go. You can speak to the traffic around you with an extended dog-tail language.

Want to say "thanks"? Wag happily. Want to say "sorry for cutting you off"? Tuck down. A nice restraint is that there's not an easy way to use the device for offensive statements, though lifting it straight up and leaving it there might have some questionable interpretation.

The Wako Corporation (no kidding), which also makes mood lights for your car, purchased the idea and now has it in production. Wako has slightly redesigned the controller as a single button: one hit = a few seconds of wag, which seems less distracting and more safe than the original, full-control design, if less expressive.

The execution of both models fails a little bit in that neither feels entirely like a dog's tail wag, which is a constant sine wave motion that's modified for expression. This device just tips softly with the car's momentum until you touch the controller, when it suddenly gets perky and doglike. But I guess they're not trying to copy the dog, just use his cute furriness for inspiration, so I guess it's OK.

But wait, your anti-consumerism cries, don't we have blinkers and hands and horns? Isn't that road communication enough? Sure. But they're not cute. And if anything makes this a success in Japan it will be the novelty and that singular quality. And it's marketed as the Thankstail. What curmudgeon would want less friendliness on the road?


Sources
  • http://www.petworks.co.jp/~hachiya/works/eprof.html
  • http://www.k-wako.co.jp/enter/tails.html

Movies

  • Kazuhiko's original: http://www.petworks.co.jp/~hachiya/movie/thankstailweb.mov
  • Wako's redesign: http://www.k-wako.co.jp/enter/images/Thanks.mov

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