Piloting a multi-ton automobile is a game of inches, especially at high speeds. The difference between a major collision and a close call can be the amount of time between when a driver thinks about hitting the brakes or turning the wheel, and the time it takes him or her to actually do it.
Bridging such a minuscule physiological gap is a daunting challenge. But the so-called "Brain-to-Vehicle" (B2V) technology, which Nissan demonstrated for the first time at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, attempts to do just that.
The product involves brain-wave reading skullcaps, which drivers wear behind the wheel. Paired with intelligent predictive software, Nissan's B2V tech can anticipate a driver's next move, whether it be acceleration, braking or turning. The vehicle can then begin that action before the driver even hits a pedal or turns the steering wheel. Nissan claims the tech makes a difference of 0.2 to 0.5 seconds in performing a given action, "while remaining largely imperceptible."
The B2V moniker is a reference to connected car technologies like vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) connectivity. V2V connectivity allows cars to "talk" to one another on the road, telegraphing their intentions to create more predictable -- and therefore safer -- traffic patterns. V2I connectivity refers to communication between cars and a central grid to optimize on-road operations like the patterns of traffic lights. Many believe that V2X (vehicle-to-everything) connectivity will be essential to the functioning of fully self-driving cars, and Nissan claims its B2V tech will factor into that equation.
"When most people think about autonomous driving, they have a very impersonal vision of the future, where humans relinquish control to the machines. Yet B2V technology does the opposite, by using signals from their own brain to make the drive even more exciting and enjoyable," Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci said in a statement. "Through Nissan Intelligent Mobility, we are moving people to a better world by delivering more autonomy, more electrification and more connectivity."
The Nissan Intelligent Mobility program, of which B2V is a part of, is an initiative through which Nissan strives to embrace and integrate the most futuristic automotive technology into its vehicles. Other technologies that have come out of Nissan Intelligent Mobility include ProPilot Park, an advanced automated parking system, and e-Pedal, which integrates both acceleration and braking into a single pedal.
There are both limits and theoretical concerns about Nissan's B2V product.
One involves finding a home for the hardware powering the advanced technology inside the vehicle. There are also issues involved with convincing drivers to actually don a wired skullcap every time they get behind the wheel. Then there's the concern about what would happen if the technology faltered and ended up causing an accident instead of preventing one.
But as unusual as brain wave-reading hats might appear, the concept of a vehicle using biometric data to anticipate a driver's actions has enormous potential. If a vehicle can augment human capacities to allow them to perform better than they would on their own, that is certainly a technology worth exploring further.