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What's new? Rolls Royce Wraith SAT

Former F1 engineer, Phil Harnett explains the development program for the Rolls-Royce Wraith's new satellite-aided transmission (SAT)


Manufacturers are employing new technology to blur the lines between automatic and manual transmissions. Rolls Royce believes that its latest creation, satellite-aided transmission (SAT), provides an automatic option that will also appeal to enthusiast drivers. It's fitted to the new Wraith, claimed to be the most powerful, dynamic Rolls Royce ever.

The concept for SAT originated within BMW. “One of my former colleagues at BMW F1 was working on it, he called me up and told me I had to see it. I knew it was absolutely perfect for the car,” explains Phil Harnett, product manager for the Wraith. “I moved to Rolls Royce in 2011, and I made sure that the technology made it across, so that the Wraith would be the first car to have it fitted.”

The technology behind the idea is relatively simple, and is akin to the preselector-type gearbox, or modern dual clutch affair. The only difference between it and these setups is the SAT’s automation of the selection via the onboard ECU.

Using a combination of the Wraith’s inbuilt navigation system, as well as an extensive catalogue of map data, SAT is able to preselect gears, not depending on the presently selected cog, but on the behavior of the driver and their location geographically.

“The beauty of the system is that it doesn’t require any more components,” explains Harnett. “The navigation sensors are already there, as are the other car’s features so there is no added weight when integrating this system.”

The gearbox at the heart of this all is ZF’s ubiquitous 8HP eight-speed transmission, which has been borrowed from the Ghost – along with most of the mechanicals underpinning the Wraith. Whilst the majority of the system’s components already have a proven track record, the Wraith was extensively tested at the Nürburgring.

“We didn’t use the Nürburgring because it’s a racetrack,” justifies Harnett. “We use it for endurance testing and the testing of component life. We can effectively do the lifecycle on the circuit; similarly the car was cold climate tested in Sweden, and warm weather tested over in Death Valley.

“Specifically for SAT, we tested a lot on normal roads too,” he continues. “The car has to know the normal information from streets, which essentially means, a lot of driving! It was quite fun actually, as we had to drive quite dynamically to get the effect of it.”

Whilst coming in to its own under enthusiastic driving, Harnett claims that the system is just as comfortable and suited to driving at a ‘sedate pace’, with the transmission seamlessly shifting ratios to give a ‘relaxed gear change’ to suit the drive.

Nor should GPS signal quality prove an issue to the system functioning reliably. “The GPS signals work on the fact that they look at your position, not all the time, but momentarily,” counters Harnett. “Once it knows what direction you are heading in, and its found you on the map it can just go, even if the satellites drop out.” 


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