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Steer-by-Wire to Replace Power Steering?

October 24, 2012 -  Over the past couple of weeks I have talked a lot about the future of cars. My emphasis has been more conceptual, as I have attempted to peer into the distant future of car technology. Today, I thought it might be refreshing to focus on something a little more…brass tacks. While I could write a hundred articles about the implications of driverless car technology, it doesn’t exactly seem relevant to the near future. Today, let’s talk steering.

Nissan thinks they are going to revolutionize steering with their latest innovation. First there was manual steering, then there was power steering, and now (mental drum roll) there is steer-by-wire! Wow...it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue does it? Steer-by-wire sounds more like some type of dangerous circus act. I’m sure they’ll give it some cool acronym before they start installing it in their cars. Steer-by-wire (let’s call it SBW for simplicity’s sake) is what Nissan calls their “Next Generation Steering System.” It still uses a rack and pinion assembly but in SBW the wheels are not turned based on a direct input from the steering column. Instead, SBW implements two mounted motors, one by each wheel. An electronic signal is sent from the wheels to these wheel motors which helps to turn the wheels according to the steering movement. There is a third motor that transfers feel and resistance to the driver.

What does that mean for the driver? It means that steering feel can actually be moderated by these motors. No longer will you have to feel every little bump in the road. The pertinent information, the necessary feedback of the driving conditions, can be programmed into the system. In SBW, steering ratios can be adjusted according to speed, road conditions, driver input, etc. Initial tests show that the system is incredibly responsive—we are talking like 1:1 ratio. At higher speeds, the system adjusts the ratio accordingly and adds a little more play. I told you I was going to try not to get ahead of myself this time, but I have to mention that Nissan is already working on integrating SBW with the other driver aiding technologies. The goal is to create a system that will be able to correct steering mistakes and hopefully prevent accidents.

Finally, some new car technology we can get excited about that doesn’t completely strip away the joys of driving! Let’s just hope they come up with a better name than SBW. SmartSteer? SteerSafe? Precision Steering Technology (PST)? Ok, I’ll let them figure it out.

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