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Infiniti by-wire steering to help autonomous car

No complaints: Infiniti introduced by-wire steering with the Q50 in 2013, and while media has been critical of the system, Infiniti’s head of product strategy says there have been “zero” customer complaints.

By-wire for smoother steering, but Infiniti driverless tech still far off

4 Apr 2018

INFINITI Motor Company product strategy vice-president Francois Bancon has declared that rivals will soon start using the by-wire steering system pioneered by the Japanese car-maker in 2013, because it will aid autonomous driving.

Having ditched a physical mechanical link from steering wheel to front wheels – backup clutch excluded – with the introduction of the Q50 mid-size sedan, the full electric system dubbed Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) has suffered some criticism about its feedback and response, and it has required a software update to iron out bugs.

Other competitors to the Q50, including the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class have still not employed such a system, however Infiniti has in the past supported further development of the unique set-up.

Now, Mr Bancon has moved a step further by insisting that not only are customers are pleased with the implementation of DAS, but rivals will introduce it soon.

“There is a big difference between the media and the customer, a lot of the customers they don’t know what steering they have behind the skin and they don’t care,” he argued.

“In this case we had to start this movement to by-wire because we have a long-term goal of autonomous driver technology, and the customer has had zero complaints on DAS, zero.

“We did some software updates, that was planned from the beginning, 1.0 to 2.0 update, it was not a recall, it was an update in a dealer. It was not because of complaint from the customer, we knew when we launched we had this step to go forward to the software update.

“We were exactly in our timing, there is no distortion here, we knew we were going to launch 1.0 with more limited capacity in terms of ability to select different drive modes. It was very new technology so we wanted to go and make sure it’s reliable first.”

Mr Bancon asserted that by-wire steering helps smooth out curves in the road compared with using an electrically assisted power steering setup linked to a mechanical connection with the front wheels. He also added that this was an important next step on the path to a fully autonomous vehicle.

“This is one of the reason why we wanted to keep the steer-by-wire in our technology basket,” he continued.

“Because on the curve it’s perfect, where with normal steering you drive some of the competition and it’s (mimics jerky movements of steering wheel) lateral movement when you are steering.

“So we are going to start this on QX50 and we are now working on the next generation that is going to be highway, with automatic lane changing.”

The QX50 mid-size SUV, due in Australia early next year, will be the first Infiniti product to be able to keep within its lane on a freeway without hands for seconds at a time. Current models offer lane-departure warnings with assistance to nudge the vehicle back into its lane should lane-wander occur.

Mr Bancon said although the next step towards autonomy will include automatic lane changing, Infiniti will not market any system as ‘hands off’ due to regulations.

“We have to follow the regulations,” he said.

“We cannot sell the car ‘hands off’ so we don’t communicate that part of the story, but of course you can.”

While several rivals such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen already offer such technology, Mr Bancon was concerned about the rate of implementation of the technology.

Audi has claimed the new-generation A8 will be the first to allow drivers to read a book behind the wheel in traffic jams – where conditions, parameters and government regulations allow.

“I don’t know what they (Audi) are going to do, but we’re not going there (yet),” he continued.

“We have a system which can work in that (freeway) environment but there are so many limitations. Every time the system recognises a potential danger … it is going to tell you to take control.

“You do this in the European market and you are just going to have to keep control every time, so I don’t see the benefit, if you have a system that you cannot trust because you are touching the limitations of the system, what is going to be the benefit? That’s the reason it is going to be a while, you need communication car-to-car and all of this.

“When you talk about autonomous driving … people have in mind a driverless car that is maybe going to happen, maybe not, but it’s far away. So I just make clear that from the beginning we have been a kind of leader in terms of development for the autonomous drive, and that’s what we use in the QX50, we never say autonomous drive but it’s all the technology there today.”

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