Nissan, like several other major automakers, has for years been offering potentially life-saving accident-avoidance technologies like lane-departure systems, blind-spot warning systems, and forward collision warning.
Trouble is, those features are only offered on expensive luxury vehicles (in Nissan's case, in Infiniti models) and usually, at a steep premium. Since in most cars these systems rely on expensive radar sensors (which often to double duty for 'smart' cruise-control systems), they're usually optional, as part of pricey tech packages.
Compounding the issues in getting active-safety features out to the masses is that, as surveys continue to find, new-car shoppers are even today more willing to pay for convenience features than safety aids. Meanwhile, the IIHS found earlier this year, in looking at how systems on the market have performed, that accident-avoidance features could cut crashes by a third.
And the cost of radar sensors isn't likely to come down significantly in the near future.
The solution? Nissan has turned to a 'making do with less' philosophy—namely, drafting the cameras used in their Around View Monitors into higher-speed, active-safety use. With the help of sophisticated image processing, it's now possible to achieve pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot warning features with just two wide-angle cameras—one in front, one in back.
Workaround for costly radar: high-end image processing
According to engineers working on the project, as part of what's termed the Multi-Sensing System, the image-processing demands of the device aren't much beyond what you might have in your smartphone—but even with the software at the level it is today, the combination of processing and the need for reliable, all-weather cameras would have made it cost-prohibitive just a few years ago.
In Japan for the Tokyo Motor Show this past week, we had a chance at Nissan's Oppama R&D center to sample firsthand how the system (equipped in a Nissan Dualis—essentially our Nissan Rogue) works.
Overall, it's surprisingly good; in ideal conditions, the camera-based system provides a warning as reliably as a radar-based one. However, engineers cautioned that in some weather conditions (rain, snow, fog), and at night, performance simply won't be the same. Considering that it may enable tens (or hundreds) of thousands of additional vehicles to get the technology, we think we can live with that.
Several lifesavers for hundreds of dollars, not thousands
The camera based system costs just a few hundred dollars per vehicle, and Nissan's plan is to offer it at about that cost, in a number of its mainstream vehicles—like, potentially, the Rogue, Murano, Altima, and even Sentra.
This technology has been developed within Nissan, not with a supplier, and it uses a proprietary combination of hardware and software, according to officials, so it could be a Nissan exclusive for at least a model year or two. Look for rollout beginning calendar-year 2012.