Nissan Testing Safety System That Beams Warnings to Drivers

By | September 19, 2006

Drivers worried about missing a red light or being hit by cars darting out from hidden alleys in Japan may receive assistance from new technology being developed by Nissan.

All the world’s automakers are working on automatic braking and other safety measures to reduce accidents. But the technology Nissan Motor Co. is developing is unique in taking advantage of street corner sensors that monitor Japan’s traffic congestion.

Japan — an island nation with numerous narrow roads often jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic — has a sophisticated system of checking on traffic congestion using infrared sensors hanging from street poles.

The information is then relayed to vehicles from the sensors to car navigation equipment so drivers can map out the quickest routes.

The still-experimental vehicle-alert system from Nissan uses the sensors to detect dangers such as cars zipping out from hidden alleys. That information is then beamed into the driver’s vehicle.

In a recent demonstration, a beep was heard followed by an electronic voice from the car’s navigation equipment that warned, “A car is coming from the left ahead.” A picture of a car in an alley also popped up on the navigation monitor.

The alert system also warns about yellow or red lights up ahead so they don’t get missed with a picture of a traffic light popping up on the car monitor. It kicks in only if the driver isn’t slowing down.

“Making the driver recognize a situation is an important first step in safety,” said Nissan General Manager Shunichi Toyomasu.

But Toyomasu acknowledged the timing and amount of safety warnings are critical to ensure that drivers don’t view the alerts as a nuisance and switch the system off.

Another idea in the works at Nissan is a system that warns drivers if they’re in a school zone.

Nissan plans to gather data to see whether the technology would contribute to reducing accidents and change driver behavior. The Tokyo-based automaker said it hopes to offer its vehicle-alert system commercially by 2010.

Nissan is also testing out a way to pick up signals from IC tags worn by schoolchildren so drivers can be warned to slow down. IC tags are tiny computer chips with antennas, which can be used to track products by radio.

Another system receives traffic congestion information directly from Nissan vehicles on the streets through mobile phones, rather than through the sensors, to upgrade traffic congestion data.

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