Nissan's Smart Cars Return to Lanes

Monday, February 21st 2005, 11:49 am
By: News On 6

YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) _ A car that swerves back into lanes on its own and a video system that makes parking a breeze were part of technological features on display by the Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co.

The technology that reporters tried out in test drives Monday at a research center outside Tokyo is part of Nissan's efforts to make driving safer. Similar smart-car features are in the works at most of the world's top automakers, including Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., as well as General Motors Corp. of the United States and others.

One of the features shown was a more sophisticated version of an existing warning system _ already available in Nissan luxury cars in the United States and Japan _ that buzzes when the car veers out of the lane.

Lane Departure Prevention combines a camera and computerized devices that control braking for front and rear wheels that nudge the car in the right direction. No decision has been made on when the new system will be available.

The feature turns off when you hit the turn signal, so you will be able to change lanes or make turns without the system kicking in.

Takao Kubozuka, general manager at the research center, said the problem with such safety features is making sure the driver doesn't rely on them too much and start driving recklessly.

``We have to strike the balance between making driving safe and letting people get away with no-hands driving,'' he said.

Nissan also showed a system to make squeezing into parking spots easier. No more running over kitty or smashing into fences while you back up as four cameras in the front, back and side-mirrors relay live video.

Nissan's Around View Monitor shows what's surrounding the car on a display attached to the dashboard. Images from all sides are shown the way they appear from above _ with the vehicle displayed as a computer graphic in the middle of the screen.

Vehicles that use a monitor to show images of a driver's blind spots taken on cameras aren't new, but Nissan's system puts together the images to create the aerial view.

Nissan hasn't decided when to offer the feature, although Kubozuka said it will probably be more attractive in Japan, where streets and parking spaces are narrow, than in the United States.

Among other new technologies Nissan displayed was a fuel-cell stack _ the key component for pollution-free fuel-cell vehicles, which run on the energy produced when hydrogen, stored as fuel in a tank in the car, combines with oxygen in the air to make water.

Nissan had fallen behind other automakers in developing fuel cells, but officials said the company was catching up. Although all the world's automakers are working on fuel cells, the vehicles are still expensive and are only on the streets on an experimental basis.

Nissan also showed a computerized system that controls the steering of front and rear wheels to stabilize driving when a car switches directions quickly.