The world’s biggest carmakers and technology companies are spending billions of dollars to perfect your ability to drive without thinking. Nissan Motor Co. is taking a different direction—trying to “decode” your thinking so hands-on driving is more fun.
The Japanese company will unveil and test its “brain-to-vehicle” technology at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The “B2V” system requires a driver to wear a skullcap that measures brain-wave activity and transmits its readings to steering, acceleration and braking systems that can start responding before the driver initiates the action.
The driver still turns the wheel or hits the gas pedal, but the car anticipates those movements and begins the actions 0.2 seconds to 0.5 seconds sooner, said Lucian Gheorghe, a senior innovation researcher at Nissan overseeing the project. The earlier response should be imperceptible to drivers, he said.
“We imagine a future where manual driving is still a value of society,” said Gheorghe, 40, who earned a doctorate in applied neural technology. “Driving pleasure is something as humans we should not lose.”
Carmakers are working on ways to keep driving relevant as newcomers such as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and Apple Inc. try to upend the industry with fully autonomous technologies. IHS Markit expects 21 million autonomous vehicles to be sold annually by 2035—equivalent to about a quarter of all current vehicle sales. Many manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW AG, say they won’t give full control to computers and plan to continue building cars with distinct driving characteristics.
Yokohama-based Nissan, maker of the Leaf electric vehicle, plans to introduce fully autonomous cars in 2022. Besides predicting drivers’ movements, the skullcap also could detect their preferences and discomfort when the vehicle is in autonomous mode, prompting systems to adjust accordingly. Yet, drivers of autonomous vehicles still will be able to flip a switch and take manual control of the car. That’s where Nissan’s B2V system comes into play. “You are feeling either that you are a better driver or the car is more sporty and more responsive,” said Gheorghe, who uses the system himself for 15 minutes a day.
Nissan plans to allow cars to change lanes on highways autonomously this year and to navigate city roads and intersections without human interference by about 2020.