NAGOYA, Japan -- What will the world's biggest steering supplier do in the coming era of autonomous driving, when cars will steer themselves and need no human hand to hold a wheel?
It's a question that Tetsuo Agata, president of Japan's JTEKT Corp., has been asking his company and himself. The mammoth Toyota Group supplier makes around a quarter of the world's steering systems and ranks No. 15 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers.
Agata is driving JTEKT toward next-generation technologies better suited for automated driving and advanced safety systems. Key to that push are redundancy systems and steer-by-wire technologies, he told Automotive News.
JTEKT expects to begin rolling out new products in the next few years as automakers move to semiautonomous vehicles. Redundancy will improve the safety of autonomous cars, while steer-by-wire makes them more fun and easier to use, according to Agata.
Redundancy systems are the essential fail-safe backups that kick in to steer an autonomous car if the main system malfunctions. They are critical because they enable the car to ensure it can drive safely on its own, while the driver zones out, reads a book or even takes a nap.
"That is the reason for autonomous driving," Agata said last month in an interview at JTEKT's global headquarters here. "If you are grabbing the steering wheel, you are the redundancy system."
Steering needs software and hardware backups, Agata said.
In software, autonomous steering systems need a backup circuit to fill in when the first breaks. On the hardware side, a second steering motor is needed to back up the first.
"We have to complete such a steering system with these kinds of redundancies," Agata said.