The orange Saab-inspired concept car looked a bit strange sitting out in the empty parking lot, with its long doors and arching roof. Don’t worry Saab-ites, this concept isn’t about to roll out of Trollhatten, rather it is a technology showpiece developed by Swedish auto supplier SKF(www.skf.com). Dubbed “Novanta,” the concept features the latest generation by-wire braking, steering and automatic transmission gear selection. The human/machine interface—today’s steering wheel—looks like it would be more at home in an airplane than a car. Since there is no need for a traditional steering column, the interface folds into the driver’s side door, providing more room for entry and egress. Upon entering, the interface folds out from the door panel and a start button on the lower center console sends a signal to the computer to start the engine. Likewise, push the “D” button on the PRNDL pad located next to the interface and you’re ready roll. But wait a minute. Where are the throttle and brake pedals? They don’t exist. The throttle is integrated into the hand grips on the interface, as well as brake activation. The only input is to turn the handgrips either right or left, which causes the Novanta to proceed along the parking lot at an abrupt and jerky pace. After only a few seconds, the operation felt pretty intuitive (of course that might be because of my familiarity with motorcycles). Pretty soon, I was buzzing around the lot in the $1 million+ concept, weaving around the lampposts. Stopping was just as simple: Just squeeze the handles and the car comes to a progressive stop. A very interesting concept, all around, but it will be a long way before the complete by-wire car hits the road.
While there are a number of technological advancements that must take place (just ask Mercedes-Benz about its experience with brake-by-wire that caused it to recall 650,000 S- and E-Class cars), the regulatory climate also must change. Equally important on-board power capability has to be increased in order for the fully by-wire car to hit the roads. So, while SKF has a good number of creative ideas on how to make by-wire a reality, the stumbling blocks may be insurmountable as auto makers continue to look at the bottom line, putting off expensive new technologies until brighter days.—KMK