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Nissan Introduces Groundbreaking Safety Technology

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Nissan logoNissan plans to introduce ground-breaking safety technology in an Infiniti model within a year, according to an Associated Press article by Yuri Kageyama in Tuesday’s The Washington Post. It consists of next-generation steering that uses electronic signals to control tires, rather than a mechanical link.

AP reports: “In the auto industry, the technology is being touted as the biggest innovation in steering since the widespread adoption of power-assisted steering, which uses hydraulics to make turning the wheels easier.”

Electronic steering is safer, say Nissan executives, because it prevents driver overcompensation in such conditions as high winds, AP writes. The soon-to-be-in-Infiniti feature — a “world first for a commercially produced car” — adds to a driver’s sense of psychological security, and that helps to promote safety, because driver stress can lead to accidents. Vehicles which have the electronic steering system will also have a mechanical clutch as a backup that kicks in should the electronic system fail, AP writes.

AP goes on to say:

Although many automakers, including Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co., offer automatic braking, Nissan’s still experimental system takes the idea a step further to steer away in unexpected situations such as a pedestrian suddenly moving into the path of a vehicle.

But [Nissan Motor Co. Executive Vice President Mitsuhiko] Yamashita acknowledged the technology, which relies on radars and cameras, is still incomplete, and the vehicle still could crash into something else just as it steers away from the pedestrian.

Yoshio Takahashi writes in The Wall Street Journal blog Japan Real Time that the Japanese car maker’s ultimate goal is “virtually zero traffic accidents” for the vehicles it sells. Its ideas include a steering wheel that does not shake or vibrate even on bumpy roads, and a vehicle that swerves on its own to prevent hitting a pedestrian who might jump in front of a car. “But what’s surprising is that this isn’t some Jetsons-era plan; the company intends to roll out these technologies out in the near future,” Takahashi writes.

Among the innovations Nissan is working on is a collision avoidance system that will use automatic steering and braking, expected to be available in cars in five years. Unlike air bags and other features that are triggered by a crash, Nissan’s safety innovations are “proactive,” Nissan’s Yamashita said, according to AP.

Takahashi explains the collision avoidance system’s technology:

Using five laser scanners around the vehicle, two left and right rear radars and a front-mounted radar and camera, once the vehicle equipped with those sensors realizes a risk of an unavoidable collision by just braking — situations like sudden intrusions onto the road in low speed zones or when a collision at high speeds is imminent with the tail end of a traffic jam — the vehicle instantly searches for a zone free from obstacles and with no approaching vehicles from the rear and then emergency steering is applied to guide the vehicle to a safe spot.

The costs of such auto safety features need to be lowered so that as many drivers as possible can afford them, Takahashi points out. Fuji Heavy Industries’s (FHI’s) “EyeSight” camera-sensed forward collision avoidance assist system, which stops a vehicle completely before a crash rather than slowing the vehicle’s speed, is an example, Takahashi writes.

FHI said that when it first introduced that system in its Legacy model, only 7.6% of customers who purchased the car also bought the $2,538 optional camera device. But when the second version of the system was introduced, the price was half as much, and more than 60% of buyers of that model opted for the collision avoidance system, Takahashi notes.

The Washington Post’s Kageyama reports that Nissan’s upcoming safety features include parking technology that senses if a driver steps on the gas pedal by mistake instead of the brakes, and corrects that, and automated steering that parks the car without a driver’s help at all.

Kageyama writes:

Toru Hatano, analyst at IHS Automotive, believes that safety technology such as automatic stopping before crashes will become more popular even in cheaper models. He said the feature that detects when a driver pushes on the accelerator by mistake would likely be a hit in aging societies such as Japan.

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