After appearances in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the Filo (FEE-low) concept car arrived in Detroit recently so the auto industry could experience drive-by-wire in a functioning prototype. After a WAW test drive of the vehicle, it's easy to imagine a driver losing control.
The vehicle is a heavily modified Opel Zafira, and it has no accelerator, brake or clutch pedals. All functions are controlled by hand on a triangular-shaped steering yoke connected to the center console. The handles of the yoke act as both accelerator and brake. The handles rotate like those of a motorcycle to accelerate, and a squeeze of either handle actuates the 4-wheel brakes. At the heart of each system is an SKF smart electro-mechanical actuating unit under intelligent control.
Driving the Filo requires considerable concentration because it is so different from a conventional vehicle. The steering is overly sensitive, as the yokes have a range of motion of only 20 degrees. It never makes a complete turn like a traditional steering wheel. It also is difficult to brake the vehicle with the same hand that accelerates and changes between two gears by the push of a button.
Illustrating the driving challenges, a guest at the recent SKF Filo event in Plymouth, MI, slammed into a curb with a production car equipped with the same drive-by-wire technology, causing significant undercarriage damage. The vehicle, however, was repaired and is being driven again.
Power comes from a 1.8L Opel 4-cyl. production engine that produces 115 hp. It's a good thing that top speed in the Filo is about 40 mph.
The Filo was developed by Italian vehicle designer Bertone and SKF Automotive of Sweden. SKF is best known as a supplier of bearings, and its Chicago Rawhide subsidiary supplies seals to the auto industry.