Infiniti's new steering system is a step towards autonomous driving
Infiniti's latest slice of gadgetry in its upcoming Q50 model sees the removal of a traditional mechanical steering column that is subsequently replaced with wires, computers and servos that read inputs from the driver and alter the direction of the front wheels accordingly.
"The new technology means Infiniti drivers won't have to worry about imperfections in the road causing vibrations that can be felt through the steering wheel," says Luis Bravo, head of research and development at the Japanese manufacturers' HQ.
"It also means that the driver can change the style of driving at the touch of a button, making the steering heavier and more responsive in a few simple steps," he adds.
All of this may sound familiar as many premium manufacturers offer electronically assisted steering that can be altered to suit different driving situations. "But our system could theoretically do away with the steering column entirely in the future," says Gert Van Avondt, Infiniti product manager.
"Current laws stipulate we must have a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels in case of power loss, but our engineers have already put failsafe measures in place. There is no reason why you couldn't plug your iPad into the space where a traditional steering wheel sits and use that or even a PlayStation-style controller," he adds.
But what about completely autonomous driving where the driver has to do little more than sup coffee and check emails from the front seat? According to Luis Bravo, it isn't that far away. "We want to have completely autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020," he says.
"The steering system we have created already encompasses advanced computer technology that wouldn't need too much development to work in harmony with GPS and existing radar tech to allow the car to be controlled entirely by a computer."