Meet the Infiniti Q50, formerly the G37. In case you haven't heard, Infiniti is renaming all the cars in its lineup with the letter Q. (We don't know. It must have focus-grouped well.)
What we find interesting here is not the arbitrary-seeming naming convention but the steering technology: This is the first major production car to use steer-by-wire (although as @evchels reminded me, the EV1 used steer-by-wire back in the mid-1990s).
It's the automotive version of fly-by-wire; Infiniti calls it Direct Adaptive Steering. To vastly oversimplify, wires and processors and actuators, rather than mechanical linkages, relay the motion of the steering wheel to the actual wheels. (Sort of. The Q50 still has a conventional steering column, for backup.)
It's significant mainly because of what it could, eventually, maybe make possible. With steer-by-wire, there's no fundamental reason why you need a wheel to steer the car. A joystick would work. So would voice control. Or the keystrokes of the anonymous overlord who controls your every motion while still leaving you with the impression that you possess free will. Anyway, the car goes on sale at the end of the summer.
Wow, another example of over-engineering and gimmic features that we get to pay $$$$$ for, even when we don't need or want them. Wishing we could get back to a simpler way of driving with less big-brother trying to make sure we drive like good little drones. I'm not talking about going back to gas-guzzling old cast-iron heaps with hand-crank 'starters' either. Yeah...we 'neeeeeed' our cars to think for us, park for us, drive for us, make us stop when we get close to a frog in the road, take away our power and steering when it gets a little icy, and lull us into the stupor of driver-idiocy. Come on...let's kick out our leg under the back bumper and fall on our arses as the back hatch opens in our face... that sounds like fun too!
One problem with this is that you cannot turn the wheels unless the system is on and working. I had a car once that would not let you steer unless the engine was driving the power steering pump. Giant pain if the car dies, especially since the brakes quit at the same time.
@superscout, I've been in a car where the engine died and as such, so did the brakes, just as we were coasting to a lighted intersection. Thankfully, the light changed in time and we were able to coast our way into a gas station, fighting the steering wheel to get it to turn and stopped.
On another instance, I nearly hit a car head on when my engine died randomly while cruising to work. I could barely turn the vehicle thanks to being almost completely dependent on the steering pump that requires the engine on to work. In fact, my steering column locked in a 3 o’clock position until I could put it back into park and turn the engine on again.
Great ideas, guy! I can only imagine how this system is going to do when no power is available (say the alternator goes and the battery is shot and the engine dies). WEEEEE!
I believe drive-by-wire is the future. As are distributed hydraulic or electric motors in each wheel hub rather than a central motor. You will still have 1-2 small, ultra efficient gas engines, which will provide power or pressure to the motors and batteries, but it will reside in the skateboard of the car (the flat part that is the bottom 6-12 inches of a vehicle. Also in the skateboard will be all the other electronics and the few necessary mechanicals, along with the energy capture system that conserves 75% to 80% of your stopping energy.
The car will be smaller overall, but more roomy inside, with a lower center of gravity, will weigh much less, and have much better gas mileage.
That's where I think we are in 10-15 years.
If I am ever to actually drive the car, I want a steering wheel with some kind of feedback as to how things are going. I can't imagine controlling a vehicle with a joystick or (God help me ) 'gestures'.
As for the actual steer by wire, the power failure scenario is very real and has to be addressed. Vehicle engines still quit far more often than steering gears break.
That boat sailed a long time ago guys. Most of the automobile has been computer controlled for decades now. Get over it. The technology is solid, proven and actually far superior and reliable than your old hoopty.
Move on or get left behind.