Nissan's Drive-By-Wire Tech Could Make Steering Wheels Obsolete

Rather than turning the steering column directly, the wheels in Infiniti’s 2013 models will talk to a computer.

Fly-by-wire control systems are fairly common on modern airliners today. Rather than connecting the flight stick straight to the control surfaces on the wings and tail, the stick communicates with a flight computer digitally, which then makes the actual mechanical movements while automatically compensating for factors like wind speed. It’s a once-removed system of control, but it also allows for less pilot fatigue and more intelligent computer intervention should things go wrong.

Now, Nissan has announced a drive-by-wire system coming to Infiniti cars in 2013. Rather than relying on a driver to physically rotate the rack and pinion steering column via the steering wheel, Nissan’s system simply sends steering information to the onboard computer, and the computer handles the rest.

Click to enlarge.

We’re told the system offers the same road feel without additional driver fatigue—the system includes a camera that analyzes car lanes for the driver, reducing a driver’s micro adjustments and compensating for crosswinds without the white knuckles. And no doubt, it will couple well with other, recently announced Nissan tech that will allow the car to self-steer to avoid accidents.

There’s also a level of customization that could change the way a car feels. Today, we expect luxury cars and sports cars to steer a bit differently. Nissan’s system, however, will allow drivers to tweak how tight they like their controls. So drivers could soon define the feel of a car as much as automakers.

But what’s equally interesting is that, with pure digital steering, everything about the traditional car cockpit can be reimagined.

"Theoretically, you could have no steering wheel whatsoever," a spokesperson tells me. With the steering column out of play, there’s no reason that a touchscreen, gesture interface, even an Xbox 360 gamepad couldn’t be used to steer the car. In the more immediate future, Nissan suggested the possibility of cars customized for left-handed and right-handed people. If the steering column doesn’t need to shape so much of the experience, moving a steering wheel over a few inches is no longer a challenge.

That said, when Nissan’s new drive-by-wire tech launches next year, the wheel will still be connected to the steering column. There are three reasons Nissan could be doing this—current regulations, engineering fail-safes (if drive-by-wire cuts out, the wheel will engage with the shaft) and, of course, consumer expectation—steering wheels work pretty well, and a car without one might not exactly improve on anything just yet. And no automaker wants to tip their hand on the real endgame at play in the industry: cars that drive themselves.

Read more here.

[Hat tip: PopMech]

[Images: Arrows via Shutterstock]

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  • technopolitics

    Well, what is does is it removed the mechanics from the interface - and therefore abstracts the function.  This is fine, but a safe interface will need to replace it.  For now, a steering wheel seems to be a reasonable we're replacing the steering wheel with..a steering wheel!

  • Whea7

    And yes, airliners have been using fly-by-wire for a long long time, but consider the level of inspection and scrutiny that those are passed under every single day versus how frequently a passenger vehicle is inspected and maintained.

  • Whea7

    The foundational flaw in this technology is that mechanical linkages, like there are in a traditional steering column, never fail due to a glitch or electronic interference.

    Computers do.

    Like hell I'm ever going to drive something that relies on code and solder joints and has zero mechanical linkage backup when that shit fails.  Enjoy those last few seconds of your life when your car forces you to slam in to a wall doing a full 65mph.

  • lindstrom

    "This next-generation steering technology's high reliability is achieved by multiple ECUs. In the event a single ECU malfunctions, another ECU will instantly take control, and in extreme circumstances such as the power supply being disrupted, the backup clutch will act to connect the steering wheel and wheels mechanically, ensuring continued safe travel."

    You ought to put a little bit more faith in these engineers.

  • Michael Aldridge

    I am a little bit sceptical that it will still offer the same 'feel', but at the same time very eager to get a shot in a car with this fitted. Is this the first step towards cruise control for steering also?

  • Ronnie's Mustache

    Is Nissan producing new of cars named "Infinity."

    Would seem odd since Infiniti is already their "luxury" line of automobiles.