During Covid lockdowns, automotive manufacturers were forced to find quick solutions that allowed design and engineering teams to continue moving forward with model development and conceptual innovations.
What many don’t know is that augmented and virtual reality played an active role in design and safety innovation for years prior to the pandemic. While Covid might have accelerated the adoption of this technology for automotive design, manufacturers like Nissan have actively embraced augmented reality and virtual reality to develop innovative mechanical advancements and elevated safety features within automobiles.
Here’s how Nissan is using augmented and virtual reality to improve driver/passenger safety and simplify design methodologies.
How Nissan is Using Augmented & Virtual Reality for Automotive Design
For some manufacturers, the virtual space became the perfect platform conducive to fluid connectivity between team members separated by miles or even an entire ocean. Executives could wear a headset and step into a hyper-realistic space displaying the newest automotive model conceptualized in 3D graphics; design critiques pivoted to this virtual space, and, even as the world seemingly shut-down, the design process continued without interruption.
In March 2019—a year before the pandemic—Nissan announced a partnership with Haptx that would incorporate virtual reality technology into the design process. According to a press release announcement by Haptx, Nissan team members would utilize Haptx gloves to interact with models in the virtual space. The gloves provide a tactile component to virtual design; while clay models allow designers to touch and feel a concept, the virtual space lacked this sensory experience.
The partnership between Haptx and Nissan could be a prelude of what the future holds for automotive design. There is a need for designers, executives and other team members to feel out the concept of an in-process design.
As Joel Piaskowski noted in an interview with Automobile magazine, there may always be a need for clay for automotive design. Clay provides the 3D tactility that, in the past, was not feasible in virtual reality. However, gloves or other accessories could allow for virtual reality design processes to incorporate an integrative sensory experience similar to clay.
While clay models might be the norm for the foreseeable future, virtual reality accessories may one day mimic reality so concisely that they allow virtual reality platforms to overthrow clay as the preferred design medium. Pehraphs 3D printing could become a secondary technology to assign in creating these models while remaining fully virtual?
How Nissan is Using Augmented & Virtual Design Reality to Improve Safety Features
Augmented reality is found in many standard and upgraded automotive safety features. Backup cameras display the rear view of the vehicle when drivers put the car into reverse; however, the backup camera screen featured in the dashboard also shows grid lines so drivers can visualize their turning radius. These helpful graphics are an example of augmented reality.
When drivers plug their smartphones into the vehicle, they can utilize GPS functions from apps on their phone. The screen may show surroundings as they normally appear but display the vehicle’s path in computerized graphics. This combination of real-life imagery and graphic overlays are the hallmark feature of augmented reality.
Nissan is elevating its augmented reality safety features with its Invisible-to-Visible (I2V) technology that is forecasted to rollout in Nissan models in 2025. How does this new technology work? I2V utilizes sensors located throughout the body of the automobile.
These sensors collect info and data from the location, but the Omni-Sensing Cloud system also collects data about the location. Together, these sensors and data structures piece together the environment ahead to provide crucial information to the driver about road hazards, construction and more.
Drivers can receive ample warning about pedestrians who may be crossing the street ahead or even a recent accident. This allows the driver to take necessary precautions to slow down and take measures to prepare for an incident. I2V also can predict and show drivers other random obstacles located around a street corner; maybe a garbage can rolled onto the road or a group of employees are lingering on the sides of a building chatting about the day.
Nissan’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) technology also would provide drivers with up-to-date traffic info, which may be a bit like a constant stream of traffic reports. There will be no more surprises about congestion during the morning commute, and those once-standard messages via Waze users may be obsolete.
I2V and Parking Alerts + Avatars
What else can I2V do for drivers in the future? Nissan explains that this technology also can alert drivers about an open parking space! That mad rush to find one parking spot at a sporting event or at major stores for holiday shopping may be simplified.
The new technology also would generate personalized avatars that are programmed to resemble friends and relatives. Driving alone? Grab a friend or parent to provide conversation and companionship during the road trip.
Avatars could help ease driver tension and stress. I2V also would allow avatars to be generated to provide guidance when a driver is in a new area. Nissan explains that these virtual tour guides could give recommendations on places to visit or maybe even provide directions to restaurants, historic places and museums and galleries.
For drivers lacking confidence or perhaps even permit drivers needing extra assistance, an avatar also could be utilized to provide driving instructions. These avatars would be real driving professionals and would offer help during the drive-time. Imagine parents having the ability to request an avatar to help during those grueling early lessons. While Nissan doesn’t provide a full rundown of avatar limitations, the potential for what they could do is incredible.
I2V Improving the Driving Experience
I2V also can improve the ambiance of the driving experience by changing visual elements of the driver’s surroundings. The dark dreariness of a rainy day can be transformed into a cloudless blue sky, as I2V would create a perfect picture of ideal weather onto the windows. This could possibly lower the stress of driving in bad weather or maybe improve the driver’s mood.
How would Nissan provide a pro driver or tour guide within this technology? The answer is found in the way that users of I2V communicate. Nissan’s site on this innovative technology explains that to visualize and experience all elements of I2V, the driver would wear augmented reality glasses while an individual in the “metaverse” would use a virtual reality headset. So pro drivers would wear the virtual reality headset, and the driver would see the pro appear thanks to the augmented reality glasses.
Beyond 2025: An Augmented Reality Futuristic Dream Scenario
We are years away from Nissan’s I2V from becoming a reality, yet 2025 isn’t as far off as it seems. Once I2V launches and users begin to experience all these multi-dimensional components of augmented reality, driving might never look or feel the same again.
The predictive technology encapsulated within I2V’s design has the potential to improve driver and passenger safety and even ease tension during the drive time. Changing the appearance of the weather via the windows may be a small graphic detail, but relieving the driver of the darkness of a drizzly day could potentially boost the driver’s mood and, ultimately, improve that long drive.
Predictive technology that alerts the driver of dangers ahead has far-reaching implications related to safety. The driver could always be prepared for upcoming hazards, word work or even a pedestrian about to cross the road. This technology might be able to notify drivers of crazy obstacles lurking in areas unseen; many drivers have faced a situation where they needed to quickly navigate around a hazard without much warning. A mattress that fell from a truck might be known to drivers for miles in advance instead of at the last minute.
Avatars bearing the appearance of family members or friends can make the travel much happier and less stressful. That drive across the country solo for a new work venture can now be shared with someone else. Not only does this improve the driving experience, but, when another individual is connected to the car and the drive, they can be aware of the driver’s stress or any possible issues during the travel time. Communication between the avatar and the driver would be virtually free of distraction, as conversation wouldn’t involve a screen or a phone.
Imagine in the not-so-distant future that personalized avatars become the norm. Maybe these avatars aren’t just driving instructors, tour guides or friends but other professionals and service providers. If the car suddenly starts making a strange noise, maybe a mechanic could listen in.
Want to order a pizza or make a dinner reservation? Perhaps a host or hostess appears in the car to put your name on the waiting list. Maybe during the drive you need to schedule a night in a hotel. The desk assistant may suddenly appear and book your room hours before you drive into town.
Is your head pounding? Do you feel feverish? Are you hours from an urgent care facility? Maybe a doctor can appear for a virtual visit. The driver could simply pull into a rest stop and schedule a check-up. No waiting necessary.
Nissan and the Future of Driving
New technologies could be predictive of what the future could hold. While I2V doesn’t feature virtual doctors, hotel staff or other virtual car mechanics, the technology could evolve to be inclusive of these types of conveniences. If I2Vs rollout is successful, embraced by consumers and without glitches, other companies may follow Nissan’s lead and develop their own multimodal virtual and augmented reality system.
Who knows? Car models may begin to communicate with each other. All of Nissan’s models may one day communicate car-to-car. So if a husband and wife both drive Nissans, their cars and their driving experiences could one day be synced. Maybe all cars, regardless of make/model, are wired to communicate. Perhaps law enforcement vehicles are wired to digitally connect, too, and this could improve safety protocols during traffic stops and perhaps ensure greater transparency.
I2V could be the beginning of a virtual and augmented reality revolution in the automotive industry, and the invisible connectivity between vehicles could be more tightly tethered than we could ever imagine.