Nissan's 'digital drive' car: Bye-bye mechanical steering

This is one call you won't want dropped: Nissan will transmit steering wheel motion to tires via communication wires. Traditional driveshafts are so last year.

Where the wires meet the road. Digits in the driveshaft  at Nissan.

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Anyone who has ever wrestled with a dropped wired connection of any digital sort - a crackly phone line, an email on the blink, a hissing credit card transmission - might find this a little alarming.

Japanese auto maker Nissan next year will start selling cars that replace mechanical steering with wires that digitally transmit the driver's motion from steering wheel to tire. "Turn left" heads to the tire as byte-sized instructions, not as brute force columns. The instructions land at some point in electronic control units that manipulate the tires via actuators.

The system will appear in some Infiniti models (Nissan's luxury range) in 2013, the company says in a press release. (In case you're wondering, the cars are not self-driving, although the technology could conceivably apply one day in such vehicles).

LEAVE THE DRIVING TO YOUR FINGERTIPS

The release says that the electronic approach marks an improvement over conventional steering, noting that it, "Transmits the driver's intentions to the wheels even faster than a mechanical system and increases the direct driving performance feel by quickly and intelligently communicating road surface feedback to the driver."

The "feedback" involves a camera mounted on the rear view mirror that observes the path ahead.

The end result, according to Nissan, is that the system somehow "insulates" the vehicle from various bumps. "Even on a road surface with minor ridges or furrows, the driver no longer has to grip the steering wheel tightly and make detailed adjustments," the release state.

That's all assuming the driver-to-wheel "call" doesn't drop in the first place. The onboard navigation screen is definitely one place where you don't want to see the words "transmission aborted, try again later." Chances are you wouldn't have time to contact the IT help desk.

Image: Nissan

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com