Concept vehicle brings steer-by-wire to sports car study

October 07, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Steer-by-wire, once hyped as a technology that opens up unseen degrees of design freedom due to the disappearance of the steering column and then sunk, is not completely dead: In the SpeedE research vehicle of the RWTH Aachen university, it lives on. And proves that it can be just as save as the conventional mechanical system.

At the traditional Aachen Kolloquium, a distinguished meeting of academic automotive researchers, the drive-by-wire technology was a crucial component of an innovative electric sports car study. The fka automotive research group developed the vehicle which is characterised through a very light aluminium support structure, electric drives and, yes, steer-by-wire. Already past year, the fka showcased a steer-by-wire system for each individual wheel and side-stick control. In the current version, the development focus was in functional safety and the safe integration of the electronic steering system into the vehicle. Another focus point was on securing the integration of the support structure by means of virtual models.

Visitors discuss the features and technologies of the fka prototype. The gentleman at the left, by the way, is Wolfgang Ziebart, former Infineon CEO and now Head of Development at British car legend Jaguar Land Rover.

The prototype is characterised through an aluminium space frame supporting structure, into which the fka engineers integrated the electronic steering system as well as the electric drive. The massive use of CAE tools enabled the developers to maximise the stiffness of the supporting structure to the level of a sports car. Thus, it exhibits a very good deformation behaviour even in very demanding crash scenarios such as the so-called "Small Overlap" crash. A contributing factor is the innovative front structure made of a combination of steel and CFK with its high energy absorption rate in the case of a crash. In addition, the fka engineers further developed the functional safety and the power supply of the steer-by-wire system; a cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering provided additional safety.

The goal of the SpeedE vehicle concept is to highlight the massive innovation potential of electric-driven vehicles and to significantly improve the driving experience in comparison to available conventional vehicles. And as a side effect, it could prove that steer-by-wire is as safe as the good old mechanical