Car driving evolving into an autonomous car experience

Nissan IDS Concept

How cars are evolving into ‘experience platforms’ and not simply mobile devices to get you from A to B is a topic of huge interest to anyone paying attention to the crossroads where the automotive industry, technology innovation and human behaviour intersect. (I was going to say ‘collide’ but that would hardly make the best metaphor.)

Modern cars are now crammed with technology that offer the occupants of those cars environments that are way beyond driving a car in the manner we are accustomed to.

Particularly with the high end of the car mass market (think Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, BMW and Jaguar, to name just a few such marques), you’re now in a machine that is more about helping you be informed, entertained and able to interact with news, information and communities well beyond the four doors of your vehicle as that vehicle moves along a roadway where the vehicle itself – through current and emerging on-board technologies that include multiple computers, sensors and connectivity – can take over the relative mundaneness of actually driving: gripping the steering wheel, working the pedals with your feet, the gear shift with your hands, navigating your journey and paying attention only to the immediate environment outside the vehicle.

No matter how technologically advanced your Audi or Mercedes might be, you’re still hamstrung by the analogue reality of not legally being allowed to use your phone when driving never mind engaging in online discussion with a remote community or catching up with your tweets and status updates. Which is absolutely how it must be until the risk of your mobile environment becoming an instrument of damage, injury or death falls to a level that society finds acceptable.

There are experiments being conducted into autonomous cars by organizations as diverse (and complementary now) as Google with its self-driving car program in the US; Audi with its experiments into autonomous driving with production cars of the type you can buy today in a car showroom; and American luxury marque Cadillac leading GM’s fight to get to the future first (as Bloomberg Business perfectly sub-heads its feature report).

Yet all of this is just the prelude, the hors d’oevres, to the concert or banquet that is just around the corner if you see what Nissan is working on. The Japanese carmaker has a car called the Nissan IDS Concept that was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show a few days ago.

This car showcases a host of new technologies Nissan is developing in its push to roll out sophisticated autonomous driving cars by 2020.

While the car is very much about the balance of autonomous and self driving, it also has a keen focus on human behaviours – the “driver” as well as people outside the vehicle – in conjunction with the car’s behaviour that combine to create an essential experience. In its press release, Nissan says:

Some have compared a future with autonomous drive to living in a world of conveyer belts that simply ferry people from point A to B, but the Nissan IDS Concept promises a very different vision of tomorrow. Even when the driver selects Piloted Drive and turns over driving to the vehicle, the car’s performance—from accelerating to braking to cornering—imitates the driver’s own style and preferences.

In Manual Drive mode, the driver has control. The linear acceleration and cornering are pure and exhilarating. Yet behind the scenes, the Nissan IDS Concept continues to provide assistance. Sensors continually monitor conditions and assistance is available even while the driver is in control. In the event of imminent danger, Nissan IDS Concept will assist the driver in taking evasive action.

In addition to learning, the Nissan IDS Concept’s AI communicates like an attentive partner. From information concerning traffic conditions, the driver’s schedule to personal interests, Nissan IDS Concept’s AI has what is needed to help create a driving experience that is comfortable, enjoyable and safe.

Watch this video to better understand Nissan’s philosophies about a car like this that will influence and become part of production cars within a few years. It’s just under four minutes – dialogue in Japanese with English subtitles – and worth watching to the end especially in full screen.

Is this purely a Utopian view of the automotive future? Just a concept?

Consider what some who pay close attention to this industry are saying. PwC, for instance, in its 2015 Auto Industry Trends report published earlier this year:

The increasing importance of infotainment and telematics systems is disruptive for OEMs and traditional suppliers, putting a premium on innovation and changing the ways that industry players design and develop new products and services. Software breakthroughs are becoming as critical as hardware innovation, and competition is increasingly coming from nontraditional players. Ever more vital software content has also accelerated the pace of change in products and features. Whereas the time frame for new vehicle launches is typically three to four years, the cycle for new software iterations, often driven by interactivity with mobile devices, is measured in months.

And McKinsey in the concluding comments to its report Ten ways autonomous driving could redefine the automotive world published in June:

In addition to transforming the automotive industry, the rise of autonomous vehicles [AVs] will likely have a profound impact on society. The ten developments described here provide a snapshot over the wide spectrum of possible outcomes linked to the increasing penetration of AVs in the market, offering industry leaders a look forward at this evolving landscape as it unfolds before them. Defining how to shape this landscape effectively represents a significant strategic challenge for the industry and regulatory authorities in the coming years.

Expect to see an acceleration in much more coming from the automotive industry as we head towards the next decade. And note it’s the automotive industry, meaning not only cars – take a look at what Daimler is doing with its Freightliner Inspiration autonomous-driving truck.

(Photo at top via PocketLint’s review Nissan IDS concept: The driverless car of the future.)