Drive-by-wire systems being installed in a number of Nissan models

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Infiniti G37

Nissan is going to start adding drive-by-wire technology to its cars, which was first shown off in an Infiniti G37S demo model. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Many complaints have been made that cars are turning into computerized video games rather than glorious driving machines and Nissan may be giving that camp of malcontents ammunition. Nissan has announced it is putting “drive-by-wire” systems in more of its cars.

Drive-by-wire systems almost straight out of airplanes

Nissan, according to Popular Mechanics, has announced that it will be installing a growing number of “drive-by-wire” systems in more of its cars as a safety feature. Also called steer-by-wire, it’s a bit of a departure from traditional steering systems, since drive by wire uses a lot more electronic input, whereas most steering is hydraulic, though most are already power-assisted.

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The severely simple version of how hydraulic systems work is that a turn of the wheel uses fluid pressure to operate the steering actuators via a hydraulic system. That pushes and/or pulls the front tires so they point in a certain direction. Turning left pulls one tire in to point left and pushes the other out to do likewise, causing the car to turn. Power steering adds some extra bits to make it easier to turn the wheel.

A wee bit more high-tech

Steering by wire is a bit busier. In drive by wire systems, the car uses a number of sensors to take in data about road speed, conditions and so forth. Those feed to control modules, which also takes in steering input from the driver. Steering actuators are controlled by the control modules, which also control the mechanical feedback to the driver, just like fly-by-wire systems in airplanes.

In short, steering by wire “digitizes” the steering, making it almost a mechanical equivalent of a driving video game. According to Car and Driver, Nissan reports it increasing the speed at which the steering system accepts steering input, improving the driving experience.

Nissan also has found drivers have reported liking the by-wire system more than hydraulic systems in testing and that the less positive aspects of road feedback, such as feeling bumps in the road through the steering wheel, are diminished by the new steering system.

However, Nissan is, according to the BBC, going to throw in a hydraulic backup system in case the steer by wire system fails.

Gonna be awhile

Nissan isn’t likely to have a car on the market until 2013 with a drive by wire system, according to Car and Driver, so don’t try to get a Bank of America auto loan lined up just yet. The first car to be shown with the system installed was an Infiniti G37S sedan, from Nissan’s luxury brand and a new model is pending for the 2014 model year.

Since the system is incredibly dependent on sensor input, self-steering, such as in driverless cars, is easier to accomplish. It can also easily incorporate lane-departure correction systems or cancel over-correction or wildly bad steering by the driver, meaning it can enhance driver safety. As Car and Driver points out, sports cars are ill-suited, since it dulls the feel of driving, but Joe and Jane Motorists taking the kids to school are likely to love it.

That said, there have been some problems with similar technology. Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, according to the BBC, both had to issue recalls with brake-by-wire systems in Mercedes’ Sensotronic brake systems and the brake system in Prius in past years.


Popular Mechanics

Car and Driver


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