Imagine you’re the driver on a long journey with family or friends. Imagine you key in the destination address onto a screen, much as you may do on your phone or personal navigation device today. Now imagine you pull a lever, and the steering wheel recedes into the dashboard. You swing your seat around, and you are sitting in a moving lounge, facing your companions, settling in for a chat, a meal or even a board game.
That future came a step closer last week at the Tokyo Motor Show 2015. Nissan Motor unveiled the Nissan IDS Concept, a concept car that combines autonomous driving and zero emission technology for electric vehicles (EVs).
“Nissan’s forthcoming technologies will revolutionise the relationship between car and driver, and future mobility,” said Nissan president and CEO Carlos Ghosn.
“Nissan Intelligent Driving improves a driver’s ability to see, think and react. It compensates for human error, which causes more than 90 per cent of all car accidents. As a result, time spent behind the wheel is safer, cleaner, more efficient and more fun.”
Nissan points out that some have compared a future with autonomous drive to living in a world of conveyer belts that simply ferry people from point A to B. However, Nissan’s IDS Concept looks a little different to this soulless vision of tomorrow. Piloted Drive, it turns out, is not the same as automatic drive. When the driver turns over the driving to a computer, the car’s performance is claimed to imitate the driver’s own style and preferences.
That may sound like a recipe for disaster, given the aggressive driving style many driver’s adopt. The idea, however, is to provide for a seamless experience as the car moves from manual to self-driving.
In Manual Drive mode, says Nissan, the driver has control, although sensors continually monitor conditions and the IDS assists the driver in taking appropriate action when danger is sensed.
In other words, this isn’t artificial intelligence (AI) that takes over from the driver, but rather partners with the driver.
“From information concerning traffic conditions, the driver’s schedule to personal interests, Nissan IDS Concept’s AI helps create a driving experience that is comfortable, enjoyable and safe,” says the company.
“A key point behind the Nissan IDS Concept is communication,” according to Mitsunori Morita, Nissan’s design director. “For autonomous drive to become reality, as a society we have to consider not only communication between car and driver but also between cars and people. The Nissan IDS Concept’s design embodies Nissan’s vision of autonomous drive as expressed in the phrase, ‘Together, we ride’.
“The Nissan IDS Concept has different interiors depending on whether the driver opts for Piloted Drive or Manual Drive. This was something that we thought was absolutely necessary to express our idea of autonomous drive.”
That’s the one side of the equation. The other is the travel experience for all the passengers.
Nissan says the IDS Concept’s long wheelbase allows for a cabin with comfortable seating space for four adults. It becomes even more spacious when the driver pulls the lever that engages selects Piloted Drive: the steering wheel recedes, a large flat screen comes out, the seats rotate slightly inward, and the passengers are driving into the future.
In Manual Drive is engaged via the PD Commander, a switch between the front seats. Once activated, the seats all face forward and the steering wheel emerges, along with a heads-up display showing route, road and vehicle information.
At last, warning lights for pedestrians are also built into a car. The side body line contains an Intention Indicator, an LED strip that shines red when the vehicle senses pedestrians or cyclists nearby. A second electronic display, facing outside, flashes messages to pedestrians. Many drivers are going to take full advantage of that one!
Nissan will also bring its research into electric vehicle (EV) technology to bear on driverless cars. Right now, a typical EV has a range of no more than 140km of in-town driving. That makes it almost useless for long-distance travel. However, the technology is evolving fast, says Nissan.
Aside from emerging wireless charging technologies and piloted park that can be managed via smartphone or tablet, the IDS Concept also carries a high-capacity battery.
“By the time Nissan Intelligent Driving technology is available on production cars, EVs will be able to go great distances on a single charge,” said Morita. “Getting to this point will, of course, require the further evolution of batteries, but aerodynamic performance is also very important. We incorporated our most advanced aerodynamic technology in the design of the Nissan IDS Concept.”