What Is Steer-by-Wire Technology?
Automotive tech is changing, and we’re moving towards semi or fully autonomous vehicles. Of course, drivers will have the option to shift between autonomous and manual driving when they want. However, for autonomous driving to take off, automakers have developed a technology known as “steer by wire” or “drive by wire” that will give drivers more freedom.
If you’re curious about it, steer by wire feels different compared to a typical steering wheel—and it could be a game changer. Let’s dig deeper.
What Is Steer by Wire Technology?
Imagine you’re driving a car, and when you hit a pothole, you don’t feel the feedback on your steering wheel. More succinctly, it feels like you’re driving your car on a video game console since you can barely feel the road. A steer-by-wire system can make that possible.
How does it work? Unlike a conventional steering wheel, a steer-by-wire system doesn’t have a mechanical connection to the vehicle’s wheels. Instead, the steering configuration uses cables that send electronic signals to the vehicle’s gear.
Since steer by wire relies on digital signals, it can adjust feedback from the vehicle’s wheels to remove vibrations and improve the steering ratio. However, steer by wire also gives you the freedom to customize the feedback if you prefer to feel the vibrations and torque response. Not to mention, it’s possible to shift the steering wheel to any position inside the vehicle, including the passenger seat, using drive-by-wire.
If you want to know how it feels to drive using steer by wire, you can get started with sim racing at home and reduce the steering feedback as much as possible.
Can Steer by Wire Make Driving Safer?
According to a research paper published by the Swarthmore College Department of Engineering [PDF], steering-by-wire can make driving safer. For instance, if you’re disabled or a senior citizen, it will be easier for you to drive since drive-by-wire filters out vibration feedback on rough terrains.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of steer-by-wire is that it delivers a more precise steering ratio. In other words, if you’re trying to navigate a tight corner at low speed, you don’t need to do hand-over-hand movements. Because of that, steer by wire makes it easier to drive a car using a steering yoke instead of a steering wheel.
In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of a steering yoke is that it can be strenuous to make hand-over-hand steering movement at sharp turns or in parking lots. It’s even more dangerous if you’re driving at a higher speed and you can’t get a hold of the steering yoke after losing control. However, a steering yoke controlled through drive-by-wire can eliminate that problem.
Beyond that, a drive-by-wire system can be programmed to prevent inexperienced drivers from oversteering. In addition to that, a steer by wire makes it easier for autonomous driving to take charge of your vehicle since it doesn’t rely on a mechanical connection to the wheels.
In the future, a steer-by-wire system could make it possible to drive your vehicle remotely from the comfort of your home.
The Downsides of Drive-by-Wire
The biggest concern of steer-by-wire is that a software malfunction or a miscalculation in transmitting the digital data will cause an accident. It’s because of that reason that some vehicles with steer-by-wire are built with a backup system in case of a malfunction.
Another disadvantage of steer-by-wire is power issues. If you experience electrical failure while using steer-by-wire, you could be in trouble. It will also consume more power than a traditional steering wheel.
Since the steering wheel is connected to sensitive cables and actuators, it could be more expensive to install and maintain compared to a mechanical steering wheel. However, drive-by-wire systems are designed with fewer mechanical parts and less likely to fail than conventional steering wheel systems.
Case in point? According to EDN, out of 38,000 Nissan vehicles using drive-by-wire, only 23 units were recalled by NHTSA due to a possible system failure. Even so, the recalled vehicles were in cold climates, and the sensors were subjected to a harsh environment.
Which Cars Have Steer-by-Wire Technology?
Steer-by-wire is still an infant technology, and most car manufacturers haven’t implemented it. Instead, it’s mostly used in racing competitions such as Formula One or rare sports cars such as the Audi R8 LMS GT3, BMW M6 GT3, and Mercedes-AMG GT3.
For the cars that are street legal, it was first introduced in the Infiniti Q50, but Nissan switched back to its traditional steering wheel after criticism. Other notable car models that you can experience drive-by-wire with a steering yoke are the 2022 Toyota bZ4x and the 2023 Lexus RZ450e.
Despite using a steering yoke in its Model X and Model S, Tesla is yet to use a steer-by-wire system, but Elon Musk says it will be implemented in the next few years. We might see it implemented in the Cybertruck and Tesla Semi.
Drive-by-Wire Is the Future
If we’re moving towards self-driving technology, it’s just a matter of time before steer-by-wire becomes mainstream. It’s safer, more precise, and you can customize the feedback on your steering wheel to your preference like a video game.
Drive-by-wire also makes it easier to use a steering yoke, and the best part is it will be possible to switch the steering yoke/wheel from the left to right side of the cockpit.
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August 1, 2022 at 10:05AM