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Nissan Steering-by-Wire

Steering-by-Wire Reaches Nissan Production

Steering-by-wire uses electrical signals and software to control a car’s direction

Nissan plans to sell cars controlled by steer-by-wire technology within a year. Finally automotive x-by-wire reaches production stage, after decades of developments and delays. Now Nissan is taking electronic steering to its logical conclusion by eliminating any direct connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels, except in an emergency, with the first fly-by-wire steering system in a production car.

The innovation works by sending electronic signals from the steering wheel to a computerised unit that then controls the movement of the tyres, rather than using mechanical links. The technology is commonly used in aeroplanes, but the Japanese firm said it would be the first to apply it to mass-produced cars.

However, it might need to overcome motorists’ safety concerns. Although the vehicles would still be controlled by a human, the development could eventually be incorporated into driverless cars. Nissan said that users would benefit from an improved driving experience since their intentions would be transmitted to the wheels faster than by using a hydraulic and mechanical system. Some car buyers may be wary about the idea of putting their lives in the hands of a computer system after other related efforts proved problematic.

In 2004 Mercedes-Benz faced customers complaints that its Sensotronic brake-by-wire system – which used an electrical link to control vehicles’ brake pads – sometimes failed. Although the vehicles had a hydraulic back-up it meant some owners had experienced longer stopping distances. The firm ultimately recalled about two million vehicles and dropped the feature. More recently Toyota had to ask Prius owners to take their cars into garages to install a software update after reports some models had suffered from “inconsistent brake feel”.

Volkswagen has already tested drive-by-wire technology in a modified version of its Passat model that has driven itself along Berlin’s roads. Volvo has also incorporated the facility in tests of its self-drive “road train” concept, which involves a convoy of cars using drive-by-wire technology to mimic the actions of a lead vehicle.

But if the thought of having no direct contact between the steering wheel and the car’s wheels petrifies you, fear not. Even though fly-by-wire is commonplace in aeroplanes and there are three ECUs processing the responses, Nissan are still going to fit a mechanical link between the wheels and the driver which would be activated by a clutch if the electronic brain ever failed.

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