You know about autonomous braking and drive-by-wire; now Nissan has unveiled a ‘steer-by-wire’ of sorts – a system that gets rid of all mechanical connections between the wheel in your hand and those on the tarmac, relying on electronic signals to transmit steering inputs instead (not to be confused with electric power steering). The system could debut on Infiniti models within a year.

The company says its next-generation steering system “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.” There are even Standard and Sport steering modes.

Not only that, “unnecessary road-generated disturbances” are isolated from the driver, so that on uneven surfaces, the steering wheel doesn’t fight back or jiggle about excessively. The driver gets only the feedback that he or she needs.

“Our goal is to link steering so directly to the human senses that it feels like an extension of your body,” says Takeshi Kimura of Nissan’s driving control development team. “(People) imagine our next generation steering will feel like a video game. So we give them a blind test, conventional power steering versus the new system. Invariably, they guess wrong and say that next generation steering offers a more direct and realistic feel of the road.”

Nissan has also developed what it calls a “camera-based straight-line stability system.” Using a camera mounted above the car’s rear-view mirror and pattern-recognition software, the system ‘sees’ the road lanes and subtly steers the car to keep it accurately within its lane.

It can also, Nissan says, make the necessary corrections for crosswinds or surface undulations that threaten to throw the car off its intended course, and in so doing will minimise driver fatigue on long journeys.

“It doesn’t direct you down the centre of the lane,” Kimura explains. “You can track as you choose, along the inside, the outside or the centre of the lane. Whatever track you choose, it helps you to follow it straight. But as you begin to stray it gently influences you back on course. The main benefit is straighter, smoother steering.”

Naturally, we’re skeptical of such technology (after all, we’re only human), but the company claims “high reliability” due to the presence of multiple ECUs – if one fails, another will immediately take control. In extreme circumstances, a backup clutch will operate to allow conventional mechanical connection.

Nissan is also working on an Autonomous Emergency Steering System, which automatically brakes and swerves to avoid impending collisions in situations where braking alone is not enough.

Where Adaptive Cruise Control systems typically use either radar or laser technology to monitor vehicles in front, Nissan’s system has radars mounted on the front, left and right as well as five laser scanners attached around the vehicle to check for road obstacles ahead and if there are cars approaching from the rear. It can even check for oncoming traffic in the opposite lane.

The system will first beep and display a warning upon detecting an obstacle; if this is ignored it will start braking partially, and if there is still no reaction from the driver, the car will steer away from the obstacle, having made sure the coast is clear in the direction of the swerve.

Impressive stuff indeed, but of course we’ll have to wait and see if the developments will come to fruition. Meanwhile, watch the video below to learn more about the Autonomous Emergency Steering System.