While Ford Studies Robots, Nissan Creates Them

Sections: Car Safety

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EPORO press photo

Seven small robots called EPORO are helping Nissan study vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity and communication in preparation for what the automaker thinks could be a future with no traffic signals — or even painted lines on the highway. (Photo courtesy Nissan)

Ford may be studying communication with space robots in its efforts to make better vehicle connectivity features in the future, but Nissan is building robots in an effort to improve vehicle safety technologies.

A press release from Nissan said a group of engineers from the automaker have been studying the way some members of the animal kingdom move in group settings to better understand how vehicles might be able to better communicate with one another with the goal of avoiding traffic collisions.

Nissan Advanced Technology and Research Director Toru Futami said, “In our ongoing quest to develop collision-avoidance systems for the next generation of automobiles, we needed to look no further than to Mother Nature to find the ultimate form of collision-avoidance systems in action, in particular, the behavioral patterns of fish.”

To that end, Nissan engineers developed a robot called EPORO, short for EPisode 0 Robot. To “see” its surroundings, the robot uses laser range finder (LRF) equipment designed to mimic a bumblebee’s eyes, allowing it to see 300 degrees around itself. In total, Nissan has built seven of the robots, and the release said they “communicate among themselves to monitor each other’s positions to avoid collisions as well as be able to travel side-by-side or in single-file, thus exhibiting the behavior of fish swimming in schools.”

Futami explained:

“In current traffic laws, cars are supposed to drive within the lanes and come to a halt at stop signals, but if all cars were autonomous, the need for lanes and even signals could be gone.

“We talked about fishes earlier, and fish follow these three rules: Don’t go away too far, don’t get too close and don’t hit each other. Fish form schools with these three rules. A school of fish doesn’t have lines to help guide the fishes, but they manage to swim extremely close to each other. So if cars can perform the same type of thing within a group and move accordingly, we should be able to have more cars operate with the same width roads. This would lead to more cars, but with less traffic congestion.”

The EPORO robot, you see, can communicate with other EPORO robots at intersections. The robots make a decision among themselves as to who should proceed through the intersection first, thus negating the need for external traffic signals. And before the EPORO robots came into existence, Nissan engineered the Biometric Car Robot Drive, or BR23C, in conjunction with the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at University of Tokyo. The automaker said BR23C “mimics the uncanny collision-avoidance ability of bumblebees.” The release explained further:

Inspired by the bee’s compound eyes that can see more than 300-degrees, the Laser Range Finder (LRF) detects obstacles in a 180-degree radius in front of it up to two meters away. The BR23C calculates the distance to the obstacle(s), then immediately sends a signal to a microprocessor, which translates this information and moves or repositions the vehicle accordingly to avoid a collision.

Within a split second after detecting an obstacle, the robot changes direction by turning its wheels at right angles or greater to avoid a collision, the release said.

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