Porsche’s Space Drive: The Ideal Solution for Rock-Crawling Without Harsh Feedback
In the beginning of December, Porsche embarked on a daring mission to set a new world record for highest altitude driven by a car. The chosen vehicle was a heavily modified 911 Carrera 4S, which would be put to the test at the Ojos del Salado volcano in Chile. Behind the wheel was Romain Dumas, three-time Le Mans champion, and the car was equipped with various enhancements for off-road driving to aid in its ascent. One particularly intriguing modification was its revolutionary steer-by-wire technology, a first for any new Porsche model.
Collaborating with German component provider Schaeffler, the steering system of Edith, the 911 that broke records, has received a major upgrade compared to the first prototype Doris, showcased in 2019, which utilized a standard steering rack without any modifications.
In contrast to other steer-by-wire systems, Porsche’s revolutionary “Space Drive” steering mechanism is entirely digital, eliminating the need for any physical link between the steering wheel and the front wheels. Porsche states that a servo motor propels the steering mechanism, while a force feedback module connected to the steering wheel generates sensory response for the driver. All operations are controlled through an electronic box situated at the usual position of the passenger seat, managed by a panel protruding from the right side of the dashboard.
Although many steering systems strive to convey as much sensitivity and response to the driver as feasible, Porsche’s Space Drive takes a different approach. Its main purpose is to eradicate undesired forces that originate from the front of the vehicle and affect the steering wheel, in order to achieve a smoother and more stable driving experience. Interestingly enough, when navigating treacherous terrain on the side of a mountain, sudden impacts from large rocks are the last thing a driver would want to feel through their steering wheel. This occurrence, commonly referred to as “kickback”, was a major concern for engineers who aimed to eliminate it for the sake of both optimal performance and safety.
According to Sven Schaarschmidt, a chassis engineer working on the car, Dumas had specific requests regarding the steering wheel. He did not want it to have a significant impact on driving and instead preferred to have a clear understanding of the traction without any interference.
According to Schaarschmidt, the Space Drive system offers a considerable level of flexibility. This means that it can be easily adjusted to fit various needs and specifications.
As per the interview with Motor1, the individual stated that one has the option to fine-tune the settings for a more enhanced experience. Every aspect can be customized according to personal preferences – from altering the ratio to limiting or modifying the steering wheel forces. Essentially, one has the freedom to make adjustments as they desire.
During the driving experience, the steering sensation is more akin to a simulation rather than an accurate representation. After taking a brief spin on a medium-level off-roading track in Malibu, it became evident that this system was designed with one specific goal in mind – and that goal was not to replicate traditional steering sensations. Its aim is to achieve something different, eliminating as much feedback from the steering wheel as possible while still conveying a general idea of the front wheels’ position. Unfortunately, Porsche did not allow us to make any adjustments, so we were unable to gauge the potential alterations that could be made to alter the sensations felt in our fingertips.
As steer-by-wire technology becomes increasingly prevalent in passenger cars, there is a possibility that Porsche may integrate it into one of their road vehicles in the future. As expected from Porsche’s engineering standards, their production version of steer-by-wire is likely to have a more heightened sense of connection with the driver. What makes this prospect even more captivating is the flexibility that such a system offers. Present electrically assisted steering systems offer limited adjustability in terms of feedback and resistance. However, with Porsche’s expertise, their implementation of steer-by-wire is bound to be exceptional.