Nissan innovates with computerised steering

Japanese car giant Nissan is to become the first mass manufacturer to use aeroplane technology in new car steering systems.

Innovative steer-by-wire technology is to be installed by the company into new cars within 12 months. The system works by sending electronic signals from the steering wheel to a computerised unit which then replaces the traditional mechanical links by controlling the movement of the wheels.

There will be considerable safety concern from motorists to overcome first, but the manufacturer, who plan to be the first to apply the technology to mass-produced cars. Although humans are still required to control the vehicle, one analyst said this was the first step towards developing a driverless car.

As a drivers' intentions would be transmitted to the wheel faster than previously with the hydraulic and mechanical system, Nissan claim the driving experience will be enhanced, and will also "insulate" motorists from making adjustments and having to grip the wheel to counter roads with minor ridges and furrows. In other words, travelling the intended path will become easier.

Recent history does, however, throw caution on the idea of putting a motorists life in the hands of a computer, as other similar developments have been problematic. A Sensotronic brake-by-wire system introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 2004, led to customer complaints when an electronic link used to control a vehicle's brake pads occasionally failed.

Since then, owners of Prius used cars were asked by Toyota to recall their vehicles for software updates after reports that some models had suffered from "inconsistent brake feel."

To counter these issues, Nissan has installed a back-up clutch system in its steer-by-wire vehicles, which, in the event of a problem, will connect the steering wheels and tyres.

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