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Nissan lifts pedal on safety

2006-03-15 07:08

That new technology, shown to reporters this week, combines radar sensors and a computer system to judge a car's speed and the distance to the vehicle in front.

When the car senses a possible head-on crash, the gas pedal automatically rises against the driver's foot as a signal to step on the brake.

If sensors detect a possible collision ahead, the brake automatically kicks in when the driver lifts his or her foot off the gas.

A buzz also goes off in what Nissan engineers tentatively dubbed "magic bumper."

Skeptics may see the technology as obtrusive, perhaps even risky, given that some drivers may prefer to rely on their own reflexes.

But Nissan says the magic bumper is helpful because research has shown that more than half of traffic accidents are caused by inattention, drowsiness and carelessness, rather than error in judgment and or illegalities such as speeding and drunken driving.

It's a safety feature that comes in handy on congested roads, and the brakes automatically kick in when drivers take their feet off the accelerator, the Japanese auto maker said.

Senior manager Yousuke Akatsu hopes to offer the feature in about two or three years in Japan, and hopes to offer it in the United States and Europe, although no plans are decided.

The technology is part of the Tokyo-based company's larger effort to create the accident-proof car. So far, Nissan offers cruise control, warnings for cars veering off lanes and a system that helps drivers brake harder in emergencies.

Also shown in a demonstration at a facility near Tokyo was a car-navigation monitor that uses digital cameras lodged in the front and back of the car, as well as in the sideview mirrors of a vehicle to show a computer-graphic bird's eye view of the car.

The AVM, or "around view monitor," shows what's surrounding the car from all around, putting together photo images from the cameras to help drivers steer into tight parking spots - very useful in a crowded country like Japan.

Commercial plans for the feature are still undecided, according to Nissan.

Nissan officials demonstrated a paint job offered in Japan that fixes itself of slight scratches caused by car-washing, off-road driving or fingernails. To speed up the repair of the elastic resin, which works like a rubbery surface, hot water was poured on a surface after it was scraped with a bristled metal brush.

All these features are part of the ongoing competition among major automakers around the world to attract buyers, and the fancy ones still tend to come in expensive models.

From Toyota is Intelligent Parking Assist system, in which the car parks by itself - even if the driver has no hands on the steering wheel - calculating from its built-in computer, steering sensor and a tiny camera in the rear the proper route into a parking spot.

US carmaker General Motors has said it plans to make electronic stability control standard on all of its light-duty trucks by 2010. Ford has shown an experimental inflatable seat belt that deploys inside the shoulder belt in a crash, adding protection to the chest.

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