Whether You Love To Drive Or Not, Nissan’s Working on A Car For You!
The writers and producers of the blockbuster 1993 film ‘Demolition Man’ were given a tough task when they were asked to predict the world of 2032, and just like many others who’ve faced up to that conundrum – both in Hollywood and in the world of science – the future depicted in the movie doesn’t completely match the world we live in. For every correct guess the film makes – like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political career, video chat, or the proliferation of the internet and the technology connected to it – there are misses such as cryogenic penitentiaries, the merger of San Francisco and Los Angeles into one single city, or radio stations that play non-stop commercials (though some might argue they got that right too). That said, their wilder predictions still have fifteen years to come to pass, and thanks to Nissan, year on year one in particular is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality – the self-driving car.
After the ProPilot Assist technology we spoke about a few weeks ago in our post about the new Nissan LEAF, the next step for the Nissan Intelligent Mobility platform is fully autonomous driving. Following tests in California and Japan, earlier this year Nissan’s self-driving prototype – a first-generation LEAF retrofitted with a total of 21 radars, lasers and cameras – as well as the full-fat version of the Nissan Intelligent Mobility software to make sense of all that information – took to the streets of London for its toughest and most comprehensive test yet. In terms of population, London is the size of New York City, but it relies on a road network whose roots date largely from Victorian times or earlier, and therefore is somewhat lacking in wide boulevards and parkways to help traffic flow, not to mention the absence of a grid system. Driving around the British capital is indeed an experience unlike any other – and yet the Nissan Intelligent Mobility car took it on and emerged unscathed.
That’s not to say that everything went according to plan… Tetsuya Iijima, head of Autonomous Drive Development and the man behind the wheel as the autonomous drive LEAF took British journalists for a drive around the Docklands area of east London – did occasionally have to intervene to keep everything and everyone safe. However, Nissan freely admit that this technology is still work-in-progress, and that despite the involvement of former NASA employees and the Nissan Intelligent Mobility software being related to the programs that guided the rovers ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’ around the surface of Mars, there are still bugs to work out. These ‘real world’ tests are a key part of doing just that though – and in any case, Nissan’s goal is to have these autobots roll out for the first time as taxis at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, so they still have three years to work on the technology and perfect everything. That should be ample time when you consider that the roots of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, ProPilot, and fully autonomous drive all lie in the ‘IDS’ concept car that toured the world’s motor shows less than two years ago.
IDS is a realistic modern-day interpretation of the automotive holy grail – combining Autonomous Drive and Electric Vehicle technologies to create a car that will both drive itself and produce zero emissions. Not surprisingly, IDS is currently beyond the realms of commercial viability, but with Nissan’s example to look at it isn’t hard to imagine vehicles like this becoming a common sight on our roads by ‘Demolition Man’s timeframe, or even before. Designed as a long-wheelbase hatchback to offer maximum practicality and versatility in the real world, this vision of the future has an all-carbon-fiber body to save weight, and an emphasis on its aerodynamic properties to reduce drag – thereby maximizing the range of the 60kWh battery pack. The front mounted text-message bar and the ‘intention indicator’ that runs down each side of the vehicle address concerns of pedestrians and other road-users’ trust in the Nissan Intelligent Mobility software, by letting them know that it sees them and clearly communicating what the software plans to do whenever it is controlling the vehicle. A similar display is provided in the cabin for the benefit of passengers, on a large information panel that stretches along most of the front bulkhead in a light and airy sci-fi-esque interior featuring wood, cream leather and an array of black-glass touchscreens. This panel acts like a large multi-function display and can also present a navigation readout, multimedia metadata (song title, artist, album name etc.) during playback, or even your schedule for the day. In its autonomous drive mode the seats can also turn slightly inward, making conversation with passengers in all 4 seats easier and more engaging. Taking control and selecting the manual drive mode causes the panel to fold down into the dash, as the cut-away steering wheel and heads-up display emerge in front of the driver’s seat.
It is important to remember that IDS is a concept car, and as a result we aren’t guaranteed to see any of the features it puts on display make it to the showroom floor. However, it’s very encouraging to know that much of the technology is already present in mass-produced Nissan vehicles, including touchscreens, app suites and connectivity for external devices and the internet. Don’t forget that even more of the IDS’s technology is included in the new LEAF, which will have a 40kWh battery, (a first for Nissan on a mass-produced scale, and the next step to the 60kWh battery IDS has) as well as the first level of implementation of Nissan Intelligent Mobility – ProPilot Assist. The future is coming folks – and maybe sooner than we, or the team behind ‘Demolition Man’ ever expected!