Nissan steering at a new level
HANDS-FREE STEERING: A Nissan staff driver, partially seen at left, of a Leaf electric vehicle, releases his hands from the steering wheel as he shows automated steering parking technology. IMAGE: AP
Author: YURI KAGEYAMA
YOKOSUKA, Japan - Electronically managed steering that completely bypasses the mechanical link is among new safety technology from Japanese automaker Nissan. Other vehicles are smart enough to park themselves, some swerve automatically to avoid humans.
Nissan's executive vice-president Mitsuhiko Yamashita said the safety advancements were proactive, unlike air bags and other "passive" features triggered by a crash.
Next-generation steering uses electronic signals - not a mechanical link - to control tyres. It will be introduced in an Infiniti luxury model within a year, a world-first for a commercially produced car.
SAFER THAN REGULAR POWER STEERING
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 do the work previously done by human muscle.
Nissan executives say electronic steering is safer because drivers tend to overcompensate, such as when travelling in a crosswind. They say the feature also adds a sense of security for the driver, which in turn contributes to safety because stress is often behind accidents.
With the technology, sensations of bumpy roads get mitigated and steering becomes super-quick and fine-tuned, Nissan said.
Vehicles equipped with electronic steering will still come with a mechanical backup should the electronics fail.
Nissan also showed "autonomous emergency steering," designed to avoid a collision through swerving when braking would be too late.
Although many automakers, among them VW, Toyota and Ford, have 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 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.
Nissan also showed nifty parking technology that senses if the driver mistakenly steps on the accelerator instead of the brakes, and corrects that.
COMING SOON ENOUGH
Another was automated steering so the car parks without the driver lifting a finger. In a recent demonstration for reporters at a Nissan facility, a Leaf electric vehicle turned on its own and backed into a charging station. The tech has, however, been around on production vehicles for several years.
Toru Hatano, an analyst at IHS Automotive, believes safety technology such as automatic stopping will become more popular even in cheaper models. He said the feature that detected when a driver pushes on the accelerator by mistake would likely be a hit in aging societies such as Japan.
Hatano said: "It's an effective way for automakers to differentiate themselves and appeal to consumers."
Nissan said it was well on its way to achieving its target of halving deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents involving Nissan vehicles by 2015 compared with 1995 data. Making that zero is Nissan's goal. Some 1.3-million people die in car wrecks every year.