Getting in and out of tight spots, navigating narrow garage lanes, and, yes, parallel parking is not everyone’s favorite part of driving a car. So, can technology like Steer-by-Wire make it any easier? To find out, here’s what you should know about this autonomous driving feature of the future.
Are you familiar with Drive-by-Wire (DbW) yet? How about Fly-by-Wire? Since the 1990s, airplanes have used the Fly-by-Wire system that replaces manual flight controls with an electronic interface. Drive-by-Wire is the adaptation of the same technology for vehicles on the ground. And no, it’s not yet to come – DbW is already in cars. However, unlike in aviation, the automobile industry is yet to convince consumers that it is safe and reliable effectively.
Steer-by-Wire (SbW) system is a type of Drive-by-Wire technology; Brake-by-Wire and Shift-by-Wire are the other examples. Despite the widespread criticism, By-Wire technology has several advantages and is ideal as we head towards more self-driving models. To understand how it improves parking safety, let’s find out more about the Steer-by-Wire technology:
What is Steer-by-Wire technology?
The terms “Steer-by-Wire” and “Drive-by-Wire” are often used interchangeably. The distinction between a conventional steering system and a Steer-by-Wire system is electronics. With algorithms, cables, and actuators, SbW replaces the mechanical connection between the car’s steering and its wheels. So, instead of a complex physically-connected system, electronic signals are used to change directions and perform other functions that control the vehicle.
Driving a Steer-By-Wire car feels different than when using a conventional steering system. You’ll have control, but the system optimizes the car’s performance. Like in a racing game, you’ll barely feel any feedback on the steering wheel when driving on rough terrain or hitting a pothole. Functionality and comfort improve noticeably, which in turn has a positive effect on safety. Drivers enjoy more freedom with Steer-by-Wire technology in self-driving cars.
How does Steer-By-Wire work?
The conventional steering system uses hydraulics and mechanical controls, but Steer-By-Wire cars use digital signals to guide the vehicle. Depending on the conditions, it also adjusts the feedback from the wheels to improve the steering ratio.
But how does it do that? The system interprets the commands from the steering wheel or yoke, analyzes, and optimizes it before sending electronic signals that tell the system what to do. The sensors that detect the steering wheel movements send the data to a microprocessor. The computer then sends the commands to axle actuators, which turn the wheels accordingly.
What are the advantages of SbW cars?
Steer-by-Wire technology improves the operational accuracy of a vehicle and considerably reduces its weight by eliminating several mechanical components. Here are the key advantages of using a Steer-by-Wire car:
It is easily modifiable to suit your driving style, which enhances handling and traction control. You can customize the feedback to feel the torque response and vibrations.
For example, senior citizens can modify the drive to feel fewer vibrations on rough terrain; SbW filters out the feedback. In addition, ADA drivers can shift the steering wheel/yoke position as per their comfort, as there is no mechanical connection to the wheels.
Hand-over-hand steering is considered a big disadvantage with steering yokes. Even with a steering wheel, sharp turns, or driving in parking lots is dangerous at high speeds as you could lose control. But with Steer-by-Wire technology, the risk diminishes, and you get a more precise steering ratio. Even when turning a tight corner, you do not need hand-over-hand maneuvers. As autonomous driving becomes more and more popular, we may see more steering yokes than wheels, and SbW is better suited for such models.
Speaking of self-driving cars, Steer-by-Wire makes it easier for autonomous driving systems to take charge and make you drive more comfortably. It could even be possible to steer your car remotely in the future!
Low maintenance costs:
With a Steer-by-Wire system, the number of mechanical parts in your car reduces and thus lowers maintenance costs. As a result, your trips to the auto shop can be less frequent too. In addition, the steering wheel can be relocated easily – from one side of the car to another or from one SbW car to another. These features can lower the cost of production and allow more variety in designs. Overall, it could also help improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.
Is Steer-by-Wire safer?
While there are plenty of benefits in implementing the Steer-by-Wire system on a large scale, safety is one of the major concerns that are stopping further development. Many car owners consider Drive-by-Wire technology complicated and fear that a potential electronic or software malfunction will cause major risks. Simply put, they worry that the system will send a wrong command or no command to the wheels if the sensors fail and cause damage to the vehicle or even accidents. Here are the major concerns:
- Software malfunction
- Electrical failure
- Miscalculated data transmission
- Maintenance and power costs
However, these concerns about the Steer-by-Wire system can be easily busted. In case of a malfunction, some SbW cars have a backup system to keep them working without a glitch. As for higher power consumption than a conventional steering wheel, improved designs can lower it. Besides, the lower mechanical maintenance costs bridge the gap further. Steer-by-Wire is a developing technology, and manufacturers can negate many of these criticisms once it goes mainstream.
How does Steer-by-Wire make driving and parking safer?
With sensors and algorithms helping you drive, there’s less room for error. For example, beginners may oversteer due to inexperience. But with Steer-by-Wire, you can program the car to prevent such mistakes and avoid accidents. In addition, the technology is useful for parking as space is often not a luxury in garages or even the streets. And yes, Steer-by-Wire is legal, and few car manufacturers have introduced it with limited models.
What cars have Steer-by-Wire systems?
F1 racing and rare sports cars like the BMW M6 GT3, Audi R8 LMS GT3, and Mercedes-AMG GT3 use Steer-by-Wire.
Infiniti Q50 was the first street-legal car to use the technology but reverted to conventional steering after criticism. The 2022 Toyota bZ4x and the 2023 Lexus RZ450e have steering yokes with Drive-by-Wire systems.