Pioneering automobile safety technology is no easy task, with the likes of Volvo and Mercedes-Benz leading the charge, but Nissan (and particularly Infiniti) is determined to join them at the top of the game.
Prior to the Tokyo Motor Show, CarAdvice spent a day at Nissan’s GranDrive testing facility to experience the latest in Japanese active safety.
It’s important to know why pioneering vehicle safety is important, because most of the features we experienced are a long way from being made mandatory by governments around the world. This means the huge amounts of money being poured into researching and developing vehicle safety technology by key vehicle manufacturers is done so primarily for the benefit of its customers. (There's no denying that it helps sell cars, but technology is getting so advanced that most buyers wouldn’t have a clue what safety features are hiding beneath the skin.)
Nissan’s 'Vision2015' is the company’s goal to halve the number of fatal or serious injuries that occur in its vehicles compared with 1995. In Japan and Europe this figure has already been achieved, so the ultimate goal has changed to reducing the number to zero. In order to do that, it’s not enough to just design more rigid and structurally safer cars with an ever-increasing number of airbags. The best way to eliminate injury or death is to prevent an accident in the first place.
Some of the active safety technologies that we’ve become familiar with in European cars will be introduced to the Nissan and Infiniti ranges in the near future:
Lane departure warning and prevention – using a rear-mounted camera, the vehicle can detect when it’s leaving its lane without indicating. It will audibly and visually warn the driver and help pull the vehicle back in to its line. This is helpful if the driver is distracted and the vehicle leaves its lane unexpectedly.
Distance control assist – helps keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front, great for smart cruise control that can flow with traffic without driver input.
Forward collision warning – similar to Volvo’s City Safety, the system can detect a potential collision and give early warnings to increase the likelihood of preventing an accident altogether.
Blind spot warning and intervention – using the same rear camera as lane departure warning, the system can detect a vehicle in its blind spot and provide a visual warning at first and intervene to prevent you merging into another vehicle.
Around view monitor (bird’s eye view) – giving the driver a clear bird’s eye view of what’s around the car, great for parking or reversing out of the garage.
Moving object detection – pedestrian and vehicle detection technology.
Despite our familiarity with the above, there were two technologies that we were genuinely and positively surprised with. The first of which was Acceleration Suppression for Pedal Misapplication (ASPM), which is another way of saying accidentally stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal. This is a common issue in car parks worldwide and accounts for 10,000 injuries or fatalities per year in Japan alone.
To demonstrate, we were put behind the wheel of an Infiniti vehicle positioned about five or so metres away from a wall. The instructions were to flatten the accelerator, heading directly for the wall - not something we’re accustomed to doing but we put our faith in technology and stepped on it. Thankfully the technology kicked in and our command was ignored.
The car’s onboard computers can work out the difference between a mistaken or legitimate application of the accelerator pedal. So if you’re a few metres away from a wall, a car or a person and all of a sudden you panic and go for the accelerator instead of the brake, it will ignore your command. Better still, even if you happen to roll towards the object anyway, it will apply the brake.
Pedal misapplication happens a lot more frequently than you’d think, so it’s definitely going to be one of the technologies on the wish list.
The other noteworthy technology was Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW), which uses radar to detect a reduction in speed of the vehicle that is two cars ahead. It sounds strange, but it’s true and it works.
For example, say you are following a large SUV that is limiting your visibility of the vehicle in front of it. All of a sudden the car infront of the SUV slams on the brake and the SUV swerves out of the way to avoid hitting it. Instantly you’re presented with a potential rear-end collision that you didn’t see coming.
Using a radar that beams underneath the car in front (to see the car in front of that – it works for up to 150m), the PFCW system can detect the speed of the vehicle two cars ahead, alerting the driver of a potential accident long before it’s visually obvious. This gives the crucial extra few seconds to help drivers prevent an accident. In its current form it doesn’t actually do any braking (which would be handy), but alerts the driver through audible and visual indicators while tightening the seatbelts.
Overall, the huge advancements in active vehicle safety have become a little futuristic, so much so that cars are getting smart enough to ignore dangerous commands by their operators. It’s important to note that while some of these technologies are already available, soon they will become standard equipment in everyday cars such as Nissans and Subarus.
The technologies that require a camera only (lane departure, blind spot, around view monitor, object detection) will be introduced in the Nissan range (given the low cost) while the radar based technologies will make their way to Infiniti first before trickling down the line-up.