Nissan has developed two new systems that communicate safety and fuel-efficiency information to car drivers through force feedback of the pedals and steering wheel.
The first, called side collision prevention, uses a millimeter-wave radar to monitor the blind-spot -- the area just to the rear of a car where other vehicles and objects can't be easily seen in the car's mirrors -- and indicate the presence of an object with a small light positioned near the wing mirror. It works with other systems in the car to sense when a dangerous maneuver is being attempted.
"All sorts of technologies are combined," said Yasuhisa Hayakawa, an engineer at the advanced engineering group of Nissan's technology development department. "Apart from the millimeter system it also uses a camera and measures the relationship between the lanes so all this sensor information is combined to detect that a vehicle is approaching from behind and also that the driver is trying to do a lane change."
When the driver attempts a lane change with a car in the blind-spot, an audible warning sounds and the steering wheel gently resists the turn.
In a test drive of the system, it was remarkably effective and letting me know that I really shouldn't be attempting to change lanes. It would have been fairly easy to push through the resistance if I really needed to change lanes but in normal use it should prove enough of a warning to avoid a collision with a vehicle moving up from the rear.
The side collision prevention system is one of Nissan's "Safety Shield" family of four technologies intended to make driving safer. Two of the technologies are already available in some Nissan cars: distance control assist gently eases back the accelerator and applies the brake if you get too close to a vehicle in front while lane departure control monitors the road markings and provides a warning if you begin straying out of your lane.
The fourth technology, back-up collision prevention, watches for objects coming into the car's path when its reversing. Nissan will demonstrate this technology at the ITS World Congress that is due to take place in New York in November this year.
Nissan is also applying some of the same basic technology to make driving more environmentally friendly. The actuator pedal used in the distance control assist to add resistance to the accelerator is being employed to indicate when a car is being driven efficiently.
Dubbed "eco-pedal," the system is tied into a computer that monitors the car's current fuel consumption and transmission efficiency during acceleration and cruising to determine the optimal acceleration for best fuel efficiency.
Within this "eco-driving" range, a lamp in the dashboard illuminates. It begins to flash when the car starts moving out of the optimum zone and turns orange when the car is being driven inefficiently. At the same time the actuator in the accelerator pedal gently pushes back the pedal to indicate to the driver that they should ease back a little to increase efficiency.
If the driver is intent on accelerating, the resistance can be pushed through without too much effort or the entire system can be switched off depending on the driver's preference but Nissan says fuel efficiency can be improved by between 5 percent and 10 percent using the eco-pedal system.
Driving a car with the system installed it was immediately obvious when I was driving inefficiently. The slight resistance on the pedal also made it easy to hold the accelerator at the optimal position and drive using the least amount of fuel. It also made me realize that I'm probably wasting fuel in the way I drive my current car.
The eco-pedal scheduled to begin appearing in some Nissan cars next year.