ZF, the German automotive supplier, has recently unveiled a new steering system for cars which completely eliminates the need for a steering column. As the name suggests, with steer-by-wire, the steering signals are electronically transmitted to the front axle via cables.
As a result, there is no longer any mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the steering gear.
Car manufacturers can save quite a bit of space in front of the driver’s seat using this system. This provides more legroom and more design space for the cockpit, for example.
This is where designers can get creative and give the steering wheel itself new shapes. Steer-by-Wire actually works more like a controller for the console, transmitting the inputs electronically.
What are the advantages of the new system?
Thilo Blitzer, Senior Vice President Global Steering Engineering at ZF, commented on the topic in a ZF blog post. According to him, “Steer-by-wire is basically the logical further development of our electric power steering system. The innovation now has one less intermediate steering shaft and many more advantages.”
He addresses advantages in autonomous driving, among other things. When the car is driving on its own, the steering wheel does not move. The signals are transmitted electronically with no interference from the driver.
Furthermore, the system is designed to be able to stabilize the car if, for example, the rear end suddenly swings out, since it does not rely on steering wheel input in this case either.
Launch date still unclear
At the moment, it is still unclear exactly when the new steering system will find its way into our cars. According to Blitzer, “Our agile team is working hard to bring this innovative, pioneering technology to market. Specifically for automated driving via autopilot, steer-by-wire is considered critical.”
Chances are, it’s going to be a while yet. This is because after the technology reaches market maturity, it will still have to find the right customers, who will in turn have to install the system in their cars. We won’t be able to use it until then. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with a conventional steering column.