Let’s take a look and try to understand these systems which are designed to make driving a vehicle more comfortable and convenient.
The Electronic Control Unit (ECU) is commonly referred to as the brain of the vehicle which controls different functions of the vehicle and its computing power helps it to process things much faster. Having an ECU also lets the vehicle have a multitude of features that increases comfort and convenience. Almost every aspect of an automobile now relies heavily on systems controlled by ECU, like electric powertrains, hybrid powertrains, interior, safety, etc.
From the past few years, automobiles are slowly moving towards the direction of autonomous driving and with this, all aspects of the road, safety and powertrain will be controlled by electronics. Let’s try to understand the features controlled by ECU like steer-by-wire, brake-by-wire/drive-by-wire and shift-by-wire.
Systems controlled by ECU like steer-by-wire are becoming increasingly popular among new vehicles with the latest technology. Earlier, the steering column was connected to the wheel through mechanical linkages and other physical components. Now, the steering is connected to electrical components like actuators, cables and pumps which, in turn, are connected to the ECU. A position sensor takes the steering input and sends it to the necessary electrical components.
The ECU receives the signal from steer-by-wire system and sends out a command to the actuators to complete the action required to steer the wheel. A steer-by-wire system translates into lesser wear and tear of mechanical components, better maintenance ability and less weight. You can change the feel and feedback of a steering with the help of steer-by-wire system.
Both of systems controlled by ECU work similarly with a minor difference. Brake-by-wire system has a position sensor attached to the brake pedal that replaces the physical connection of the brake with the brake assembly. The brake pedal connects to the sensor which is connected to the ECU. The ECU processes the inputs related to braking and accordingly sends a signal to the actuators to perform the necessary action.
Similarly, in drive-by-wire system, the position sensor is attached to the throttle which connects to the ECU. The sensor sends the inputs received from the throttle response and the ECU processes the inputs and sends the signal to perform the necessary action.
Shift-by-wire is another system controlled by ECU which makes driving more comfortable and convenient. Many new vehicles with automatic transmissions use shift-by-wire technology nowadays. The electronics are used to communicate between the driver’s input and the transmission of the vehicle. The gear changes accordingly to the throttle response, enabling smoother gearshifts compared to a mechanical system.