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Nissan's 'Steer-By-Wire' System, Coming To Infiniti In 2013

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Nissan has unveiled a lot of new technologies over the past week, including its "Emergency Assist for Pedal Misapplication" and "Autonomous Emergency Steering System". Now, there's another to report -- one that will benefit drivers during their everyday travels, not just during emergencies.

It's called "Independent Control Steering Technology", and it's allowed Nissan to eliminate the mechanical link between the steering wheel and the tires, replacing it with an electronic system. This may not seem like a very big deal, since many automakers already use electric power steering, but this technology -- commonly referred to as "steer-by-wire" -- is something very different. 

Nissan's system relies on a series of three electronic control units, or ECUs, which serve as an intermediary between the steering wheel and the tires. According to Nissan, the ECUs transmit movement from the steering wheel much faster than the conventional mechanical methods, making for a much more responsive vehicle.

But while the driver can communicate very quickly with the wheels, communication between the wheels and the driver is muted. For example, when you're driving across a rough patch of road in most vehicles, the bumps cause minute changes in the wheels' trajectory, which are transmitted to the steering wheel as a series of bumps and small twists.

In Nissan's new system, however, the ECUs pull double-duty, correcting for flaws in the road and -- more interestingly for drivers -- blocking those vibrations from reaching the steering wheel. The effect should be more like driving a car in a video game, where the ride is usually smooth. (Well, at least until you run into the back of that pimp's Continental.) In Nissan's words, this new technology results in "a steering wheel that doesn't fight back".

Nissan's ECUs are aided in their efforts by a camera situated atop the vehicle, which can help make minute changes to the wheel directions, based on the vehicle's trajectory. This means less wobble from bumpy roads and even crosswinds -- though obviously, the driver still has the ability to make turns and change lanes. That should make driving long stretches of highway a little less fatiguing.

If you're the type to worry about the safety of fully electronic systems, Nissan has you covered. The three ECUs offer some built-in redundancy: if one fails, the others take over. However, should all three fail -- a situation Nissan describes as "extreme" -- there's a backup clutch that will allow the driver to control the vehicle in the good old fashioned mechanical way.

Nissan says that this new technology will begin appearing on select Infiniti models within a year. We'd expect to see it roll out to the larger Nissan lineup over the next three to five model-years.

Does this technology intrigue you? Or do you like the feel of a bumpy road in your steering wheel? Have a look at the video above, and be sure to check out our write-up at Motor Authority, too, then sound off in the comments below.

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Comments (2)
  1. One more nail in the coffin of the drivers' car. This will by design provide absolutely no steering feel for the driver, which limits the driver's feel of the conditions at the contact patch.
    Give me old fashioned mechanical steering any time.
     
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  2. Unless the intention is to remote-control the car, this sounds like a very complicated, unreliable, expensive, and generally bad idea. The "Independent Control Steering Technology" being touted here completely deprives the driver of direct control of steering and necessary situational feedback from the tires. The driver does not communicate with the tires at all, but instead gives mere suggestions to the ECU of where to steer the car. This may be a public safety enhancement to override incompetent drivers, but a component glitch, software error, or power failure immediately renders the car unsteerable. A mechanical linkage is proven, simple, far more reliable, and generally safer.
     
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