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Nissan IMx Kuro Concept Claims Brain-to-Vehicle Technology

by Nathan Eddy
While some skeptics dismiss automaker claims that fully autonomous driving is on the horizon, those notions haven't stopped Nissan from introducing a concept that takes self-driving vehicle tech one stop further -- by connecting it with the human brain.

At the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show, the Japanese auto giant unveiled the IMx Kuro -- Japanese for "black" -- an electric crossover concept vehicle that includes integration with Nissan's futuristic-sounding brain-to-vehicle (B2V) technology.

The concept behind B2V is that the autonomous driving system can actually interpret signals from the driver's brain to assist with driving, and can help the vehicle's autonomous and manual systems learn from the driver.

In order for this to work, the driver must don a device measuring brainwave activity, which is then analyzed by the autonomous driving system.

The company says the system can make a decision, such as turning the steering wheel or braking the vehicle, 0.2 to 0.5 seconds faster than the driver by anticipating the driver's intended movement.

In addition, the vehicle's artificial intelligence (AI) system could change the driving style when in autonomous mode simply by sensing driver discomfort or worry.

"The brain-to-vehicle technology is extremely interesting but I have a hard time seeing this implemented in the near term," Michael Ramsey, a Gartner analyst specializing in autonomous vehicle technology, told The Connected Car. "The intention of understanding an action prior to it happening and making it happening more quickly also brings up all kinds of questions about free will -- do we actually have it if a machine can read signals and know what you are going to do before you do?"

Ramsey also pointed out there are some basic hurdles to implementing autonomy and none are easy to overcome, including the cost, which today is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, because each of these vehicles is hand-built.

"In addition, once they are built the maintenance of them brings in new requirements for technical expertise that simply doesn't exist widely," he said. "The sensors on board are also rare, meaning replacement costs will be astronomical."

Aside from being able to read your brain and improve your ride, when parked the IMx Kuro could also act as a reverse power plant by connecting to the local power grid and returning electricity to the grid.

First revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 2017, the updated IMx Kuro features a version of Nissan's ProPilot fully autonomous driving platform, which stows the steering wheel inside the dashboard and reclines all seats when activated.

Other styling changes are underway with the arrival of fully autonomous vehicles, with Nissan taking cues from the openness of the traditional Japanese house.

Nissan has further simplified the interior of the IMx Kuro through the integrated AI system, which enables the driver to control the instrument panel with eye movements and hand gestures -- an intuitive interface that results in fewer physical controls and switches.

A panoramic OLED instrument panel -- a feature found in several of the fully autonomous concept vehicles at the auto show -- displays a view of the external environment in the background, while a pair of high-output electric motors at the front and rear give it all-wheel-drive capability.

"The autonomous cab sounds fun, but math behind the explanations are like voodoo economics. They make incredible assumptions that don't hold up," Ramsey said. "All that said, in 10 years there will absolutely be autonomous vehicles running around nearly every major city in mature markets."

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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