Nissan calms steer-by-wire fears

News that Nissan would be launching steer-by-wire as early as next year on some Infiniti models got PHers talking here. Sensible questions were raised along the lines of 'what the hell's going to happen to steering feel now?' and 'isn't relying on electric connections to steer your car a tad risky?'

Just to recap, the system faithfully reproduces steering inputs from the driver, but filters out the worst pothole kickbacks. However surface feedback is interpreted and sent back through the wheel.

The future of steering feel - in Nissan's hands
The future of steering feel - in Nissan's hands
Perhaps they were reading, who knows, but Nissan has come back with some written answers from their Japanese engineers about how this will all work. And they're pretty feisty about it too.

"Yeah, everyone starts with the same preconceived ideas," says Takeski Kimura of Nissan's driving control development team. "They imagine our next generation steering will feel like a video game."

But he says in blind-tests between conventional steering systems and the new one, most people get them mixed up. "Invariably they get it wrong and say that the next generation steering offers a more direct and realistic feel of the road.

"We look forward to seeing how the world's auto writers go about describing this." And we look forward to trying it (ahem).

So, what about if it all goes wrong? "People wonder what happens if you lose electric power, so we show them." Kimura says. A clutch mechanically kicks in the instant the power cuts out. There are also back-up ECUs. "There is absolutely no way to lose steering control," he says. And then he makes the point about modern planes.

The benefits we're told is that you don't get that steering judder on rutted roads and you need fewer steering adjustments. It's also programmable for different roads or driving styles, so "Sport" would give a more instant response, while "Standard" would be "tuned for more everyday driving".

Nissan reckons steering responses are faster, and that feedback is sent back equally quickly. "Our goal is to link steering so directly to the human senses that it fees like an extension of your body," says Kimura.

A noble goal and we're looking forward to having a go, after the world's top auto writers of course.

Shame it all this was revealed QUITE so close to a Nissan announcement that they were recalling 51,000 vehicles, mostly Qashqais, after a steering wheel came loose in a Finnish driver's hands. But then life has its potholes too.

A video explanation of how it all works can be seen here.


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Comments (121) Join the discussion on the forum

  • amstrange1 07 Nov 2012

    Fury1630 said:
    Also, the systems used on Airbuses are extremely reliable & if "flight critical" they're triple redundant - that's three systems, all programed by different teams & monitored to make sure thier outputs are near identical. You think a Nissan will have that level of safety? Three separate computers in diferent parts of the car to do the same function?
    Yes, Nissan will. Functional Safety is not a concept that's unique to aerospace:- rail; defence; medical; power generation (especially nuclear) and automotive all have their appropriate standards...

    IEC61508 was a catch-all Functional Safety standard for Electrical/Electronic systems that was being applied in the automotive industry years ago - and with the increasing reliance on electrical systems for safety critical functionality in road vehicles this spawned an automotive specific standard in ISO26262. For highly safety critical functions redundancy in both software and hardware is required, and the design; development and validation processes need to be carefully controlled and independently reviewed.

    I think the press releases mention the steer-by-wire functionality being similar to aerospace simply to try to alay fears that this is scary new technology, but IMO it's not a great comparison to draw for audiences like this one! Design & Development costs for any safety critical system are going to be expensive in either case, but in aerospace you have low volumes and high unit costs when compared to automotive. So just because an automotive ECU is cheaper than an aerospace one, it doesn't mean it's crap... In practice that means a £10k electronic control unit produced at a rate of a few hundred per annum vs a similar set of hardware costing sub-£500 because hundreds of thousands are churned out each year.

  • Mr2Mike 30 Oct 2012

    boundary1840 said:
    It was bad enough when BL made the Austin Allegro with a square steering wheel , this now with no shaft from steering to rack is asking for trouble, as we know modern car electrics can fail at the flick of a switch, for me its taken away your last piece of safety control, so no shaft no sale.
    There is a shaft connecting the steering wheel to the rack, but it's connected by a clutch. Don't let facts get in the way of a good rant though wink

  • Pistonwot 29 Oct 2012

    SSBB said:
    Pistonwot said:
    I will definatively NEVER buy another Nissan in my lifetime.
    Ive owned a few of Nissan's and they were pretty enjoyable but this is taking the P.
    These profit obsessed corporate organisations cant even make lights that dont blow the bulbs within 1 year so what will these cheap ESSENTIAL components be like in 6-8 years time?
    F**K that!
    Nissan and all the other greedy urchins who save beans by ruining cars can keep them.

    Heres hoping the imminent flood of cheap Chinese cars will put them out of business, they should be ashamed.
    Businesses. The word you were looking for was businesses.
    I meant profit obsessed corporate organisations thats why I wrote those words in that order!

    See you next Tuesday ---- The word I was looking for was C**T

  • cptsideways 29 Oct 2012

    zebedee said:
    dvs_dave said:
    it could prevent loss of control inducing steering inputs, and apply corrective action to keep things in line.
    So you advocate a car ignoring the driver telling it to swerve, and keeping it in a straight line instead?! I think I know what you might mean, which is to apply only the amount of steering necessary to make the manouevre, but it still sounds dodgy territory to me.
    There are plenty of current cars with corrective steering systems already out there. If they don't automatically the steering angle then they apply feedback to stop you under/over steering as appropriate.

    Any Toyota/Lexus with VGRS & VDIM, Hyundai I40's, Ford Focus's, many new Volvo's, the list is pretty big.

  • cptsideways 29 Oct 2012

    Dear Nissan

    Please point me in the direction of ANY modern car with a FBY throttle system that does not have any discernible throttle delay. I have yet to come across one.

    Obviously somebody else has the patent on variable gear ratio steering so Nissan are trying develop then next nearest thing, how any engineer can tell us a non direct link is a better than a direct link (when you have to have one of these anyway!!) is talking out of their backside.

    Keep it Simple Stupid

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