CHIBA, Japan -- You don't see bees get into collisions often.
and the Advanced Science and Technical Department at the University of Tokyo are studying the ways bees navigate in mid-air to see if it could be applied to cars to prevent crashes.
"Bees are flying around each other all the time, but you don't see them crash into each other very often," said Minoru Shinohara, senior vice president in the technology development division at Nissan. "Maybe composite eyes amplify the sense of space around them."
The ultimate goal would be to insert a safety mechanism in the car in which a biomimicry-inspired robot would take over control at the last moment, he said in our meeting. Humans simply can't react as fast as robots. However, you don't want to have the robot take over control of the car too early, he added: Consumers would balk at that.
The picture below actually shows two robots rigged up with collision-avoidance software. When they get too close to each other they veer away. The red one is designed to be the more timid of the two.
Nissan, like a lot of big car makers, is largely dedicating its future research into two areas: alternative energy and safety. Sometimes the two align. In a study Nissan has been conducting in Beijing, the company has rigged up sensors to 13,000 taxis. By determining the speed and location of the taxis via the sensors, a central server can determine where traffic jams have occurred and send advice on how to avoid it to drivers on the streets. So far, Nissan has found that travel time for those taxis has dropped by 20 percent and CO2 emissions are down 17 percent.
The company also showed off an eco-friendly gas pedal that will soon come to market. When you accelerate too sharply, the gas pedal begins to give the driver more resistance. This serves as a reminder that you should slow down to save gas. A dashboard light goes on as well. You can blow through the additional pressure. I took it for a test drive and refused to slow down. But you feel the pressure and it could be effective. Think of it as cruise control for gas mileage.
In a later post, I will go over what Shinohara said about Nissan's plans for electric cars. Last year at the show, he told me that Nissan was going to release fully electric cars by 2011 or so. The official annoucement came out a few months later.