Nissan to introduce steer-by-wire cars in 2013

Select Infiniti models will get electronic steering, which could reduce driver fatigue. Emergency braking and steering could follow.


I can't wait for cars to drive themselves, and here's one more step in that direction.

Nissan wants to cut the mechanical link between the steering wheel and the tires on some of its 2013 automobiles with steer-by-wire technology. It could make driving more like playing a video game, or more of a full-on engagement with the road, depending who you ask.

The system would replace the conventional rack and pinion setup with one that controls the tire angles and steering inputs with independent electronic controls, similar to the trusted fly-by-wire interface in aircraft.

"This transmits the driver's intentions to the wheels even faster than a mechanical system and increases the direct driving performance feel by quickly and intelligently communicating road surface feedback to the driver," the automaker said in a release.

"For example, even on a road surface with minor ridges or furrows, the driver no longer has to grip the steering wheel tightly and make detailed adjustments, so traveling on the intended path becomes easier."

Some Inifiti models will get the tech next year. They could have fewer parts, requiring less maintenance, and could be somewhat lighter, reducing fuel consumption.

In addition to redundant electronic control units, a backup clutch system would connect the steering wheel to the tires mechanically if a power failure occurs.

But the main benefit, according to Nissan, would be safer cars. Cameras mounted in the rear-view mirror would monitor speed and direction for lane-keeping assistance.

The cameras will help a car stay in its lane amid crosswinds or changes in road surfaces. Taking the burden of these many small adjustments off the driver will reduce fatigue, the company said.

Nissan says people may think drive-by-wire systems will diminish their sense of connection with a vehicle, but blind tests invariably result in subjects choosing the wire system as having a more "direct and realistic feel of the road" compared with conventional steering. The company says it's like "an extension of your body."

Nissan also announced an Autonomous Emergency Steering System, to be rolled out in a few years, that provides automatic braking and steering when a collision is imminent. It works with radar, laser scanners, and a camera to detect fast-approaching hazards.

"The system takes effect in situations where unpredictable risks arise, such as sudden intrusions onto the road in low-speed zones, or when a collision at high speed is imminent due to the driver's delayed recognition of the tail end of a traffic jam," Nissan said.

Check out the tech in action in an Infiniti in the below promo vid, which for some reason stars Roland Buerk of BBC News.