While power steering has made it possible to drive around without giving yourself an exhausting upper body workout, the steering ratio of most vehicles – that is, the number of turns of the steering wheel required to turn the front wheels a certain amount – is fixed. Ford is shaking things up for non-luxury car buyers with its new Adaptive Steering system that will be available on select models from next year.
As the name suggests, adaptive steering system adjust the steering ratio of a vehicle to adapt to changing conditions – in this case, the speed of the vehicle. At low speeds, the system turns the front wheels a greater distance for the same amount of rotation of the steering wheel – or, if you like, less turning of the steering wheel is required for the same amount of turning of the front wheels. Ford says this makes the car more agile and easier to turn when, for example, maneuvering into a tight parking space.
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When traveling at highway speeds, the system doesn't go in the other direction and make it so the driver needs to turn the steering wheel further to achieve the same result as traditional steering systems. Rather the steering ratio is gradually reduced the faster the vehicle goes, so that less turning of the steering wheel is still required, but as speed increases its effects will be less and less noticeable compared to traditional steering.
The system, which was developed by Ford in collaboration with automotive steering and safety systems supplier Takata, uses an actuator comprising an electric motor and gearing system that is placed inside the steering wheel. As it requires no change to a vehicle's traditional steering system, it can be fitted to Ford's full line of cars, utility vehicles and trucks.
Although similar systems are already available on some luxury models from other automakers, Ford looks set to be the first to bring the technology to the average consumer, with plans to make it available on select vehicles in 2015.
The effect of the system can be seen in following video.