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Nissan to offer drive-by-wire technology on select Infiniti models

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October 17, 2012

Your car may soon be controlled by electronic impulses – if it's an Infiniti

Your car may soon be controlled by electronic impulses – if it's an Infiniti

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As much as computers have permeated our lives, some things have remained old-fashioned. Just look at automobiles. Despite the presence of computer diagnostic systems, and built-in support for iPods, smartphones, and Siri, modern cars still largely rely on mechanical technology. Nissan is trying to change that, with drive-by-wire steering tech that has been long in development, but slow in real-world implementation.

Drive-by-wire tech has been held up as a "technology of the future" for well over a decade. It replaces the traditional mechanical relationship between steering wheel and tires with an electronic one. At least in theory, the biggest advantage of the system is that tires respond to driver input almost instantaneously.

Nissan's version is being marketed as "steer-by-wire," and will be introduced to some Infiniti models in 2013. The company says that this will be the first mass implementation of the tech in commercial vehicles.

Process and Advantages

In select Infiniti cars, the direct mechanical relationship between steering wheel and tir...

How does it work? The system interprets the driver's input from force applied to the steering wheel. This information is fed to multiple electronic control units (ECUs). The ECUs then process this information and turn it into instructions for the steering angle actuator, which turns the front wheels. It can make driving less like manual labor, and more like a video game.

In addition to the instantaneous response times, Nissan also touts the system's ability to adjust for road feedback – so if you're driving along a street with a harsh surface, you won't have to grip your bucking, shaking steering wheel for dear life. Since the steering wheel/tire relationship is electronic, distracting feedback from bumps and uneven pavement can be filtered out before being felt by the driver. Nissan describes it as steering that doesn't fight back.

Nissan's system also mounts a forward-facing camera onto the rear-view mirror. It scans the road ahead, and sends information about lane detection and the vehicle's direction of travel to the steer-by-wire system. Discrepancies are then adjusted for with an opposing force to the tire angle – if the car starts drifting to one side, for instance, the system will automatically steer the car back towards the center of its lane. It sounds like something from Terminator, but a successful implementation could make driving more smooth and relaxing.

Problems?

Nissan is trying to make sci-fi a reality with drive-by-wire tech

Purists will look at a system like this and cringe. As reliable as computers can be, many are hesitant to trust one for something as critical as steering.

Nissan claims to be prepared for malfunctions, as its system ships with multiple redundant ECUs. That way, if one fails, another steps up to take its place. In the event of a complete loss of power, a backup clutch will step in and restore a traditional mechanical tire/steering relationship.

Even if everything works as marvelously as Nissan claims, though, there may still be one huge drawback: cost. A big reason for the slow implementation of these systems is that they're more expensive than old-fashioned steering systems. If you're paying for a new car, you may prefer to get more bang for your buck in other areas.

What do you think: is the future now for drive-by-wire systems, or is it too pricey and risky to be worth the trouble? Drop us a line in the comments ... and in the meantime, you can check out Nissan's promotional video below.

Source: Nissan via IEEE Spectrum

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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13 Comments

It's not the risk of failure, that can be managed with RAMS and SIL ratings. It's the lack of feedback. I don't want the steering wheel to feel like a video game. I want it to fight back, to feel like a steering wheel. Otherwise I'll have no idea when the wheels are about to cut loose.

nicho
17th October, 2012 @ 07:15 pm PDT

So if I have to turn my wheel suddenly to avoid a small child who wandered onto the road, the Nissan system will automatically correct and put me back in the lane, hitting the child?

paulgo
17th October, 2012 @ 08:13 pm PDT

Yes, it is partly the risk of failure. Airbus, for example, had a pretty terrible record (although pretty well hidden for a while) with its initial "fly-by-wire" systems. Even in just the last few years it has been labeled the cause of more than one rather severe failure.

Granted, Boeing also gradually also went fly-by-wire, but they took a slower and more careful approach. As a result, there have been relatively fewer accidents directly attributable to their electronic systems. (I am not making claims about the overall safety of either one.)

Anne Ominous
17th October, 2012 @ 08:57 pm PDT

If i am going to pay for drive by wire I want to get rid of the steering wheel. put the gas and brakes on the same joystick as well.

re; Anne Ominous

The problem with the Airbus fly by wire is that the Airbus design management culture sees the pilots as the problem they are trying to fix.

Pikeman
18th October, 2012 @ 02:48 am PDT

I agree with Pikeman. I would like to see the benefits of such a system fully exploited from the beginning. But I guess their typical customer hates driving and avoids change. However the plus side is that this technology can mature on a car that I won't buy.

jonoxn
18th October, 2012 @ 05:06 am PDT

nicho: My M37's traction control is nearly impossible to break lose. It is amazing. I've thrown it in to sandy, off camber corners at very high speeds to test it and have it brake individual wheels and recover faster than any human could. I for one, trust our robot overlords at Infiniti.

paulgo: no, the lane departure correction feature is already built in to many cars (including mine). If you aren't actively steering and it notices you're leaving a lane at freeway speeds, it counters by very lightly braking on the opposite steering tire to pull you back in. If you indicate or actively steer out or are below a certain speed, it won't fight you. The only difference with this system is rather than using brakes to steer, it can just steer directly. No children harmed.

Matt68000
18th October, 2012 @ 11:35 am PDT

I am expecting a car that is all solid state. No moving parts.

My girlfriend just broke a leg as a result of a brake pedal, an ashtray and a crash.

Stewart Mitchell
18th October, 2012 @ 04:31 pm PDT

Better train auto techs to service those makes BIG time & esp AAA Roadside Emerg Service crews nationwide

Stephen N Russell
18th October, 2012 @ 04:55 pm PDT

Honest officer, I did not run over that pregnant woman with her son, the car did it, or the train, your car sitting on the track Honk, HONK and you press the gas pedal and it just sits there, yes I am an a German Automobile technician since 1972, and yes I stay up to date we have been waiting for this, prepping, we have throttle controlled by computer since 1996, should be cool

Bill Bennett
18th October, 2012 @ 10:08 pm PDT

They want to remove feedback? No bumps, wind or camber forces transferred back to the driver - noo that's a bad thing!

I aint buying no drive-by-wire Nissan!

PeetEngineer
19th October, 2012 @ 08:46 am PDT

I could care less about how the road feels. I want a car that can drive itself!

Rick Viduka
20th October, 2012 @ 10:04 am PDT

I rented a Hundai Santa Fe a couple of years ago for a winter trip down I-5. It was a very competent vehicle but, after being spoiled rotten by an 89 4-runner (22RE) for years, I found the ECT disconcerting.

I have driven tens of thousands of miles on icy and snowy roads and have developed a pretty good feel for road conditions based on how the vehicle reacts to the road. The ECT mitigates most effects before they get to me, so I feel cut off from the road. I cannot imagine how wierd it would feel to be driving in snow and ice with FBW steering and traction control. At that point, I would rather just let the car handle the driving as well because I have effectively been pushed out of the loop.

I conceed that this tech is probably a good thing for many drivers, just not my cup of tea.

Alan Belardinelli
23rd October, 2012 @ 04:47 am PDT

As regards this statement:

"My M37's traction control is nearly impossible to break lose. It is amazing. I've thrown it in to sandy, off camber corners at very high speeds to test it and have it brake individual wheels and recover faster than any human could. I for one, trust our robot overlords at Infiniti."

You've invalidated your awe within your own statement.

The M37 is programmed to interpret your brake pressure in conjunction with any other meaningful data hundreds or thousands of times a second, and can then apply brake pressure to each of the 4 wheels individually to get the job done. In other words, the car has at its diposal the equivalent of 4 brake pedals, producing car control never imagined until recently. It's simply logical that this system can outperform a human with one brake pedal. Apples and oranges; they're just not doind the same thing.

FastGuy
26th October, 2012 @ 09:07 am PDT
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