According to Reuters, Nissan has announced plans to introduce a new "steer-by-wire" system in its Infiniti line of automobiles by the next model year. This will be the first time that a steer-by-wire system will be available in a mass produced automobile. Steer-by-wire systems replace traditional mechanical steering mechanisms that include racks and pinions with electronically controlled servos. Commonly used in airplanes, the electronic system takes inputs from the driver and relays them to electronic actuators that then control the direction of the wheels on the car.
Steer-by-wire could lead to cars with joysticks in the coming years
Of course, without a mechanical link from the steering wheel to the drive train, the system has to simulate a "road feel" to the driver, but the apparent advantages of the electronic system should outweigh the loss of a direct feel for the road. Nissan says that with the electronic system, the car can respond faster because it eliminates the slack and inefficiencies that are inherent in mechanical systems. In the case of a system failure, the cars will be equipped with a backup clutch that will link the steering wheel to the car's wheels, reinstating direct manual control.
Nissan plans to launch the new system in its luxury Infiniti brand first, though it probably won't be long before it makes its way down to the manufacturer's more pedestrian automobiles. In the future, the car company envisions using the technology for even more exotic ways of controlling our cars, such as driving with a video-game inspired joystick or controlling the car from the backseat instead of the front. Of course, with Google's ever-expanding tests of self-driving vehicles, the driver himself may be the next thing to be replaced by electronics and wires.