As part of its drive to reduce road deaths and injuries, Nissan Motor Co. has installed in a car three prototype high-tech systems designed to stop drunk driving.
The first attempts to directly detect alcohol in the driver's sweat. After drinking, a certain amount of alcohol escapes the body in perspiration and this can be picked up by sensitive detectors if they are in proximity with the driver.
One of the four sensors in the car is on the gear shift lever. As this has to be touched in order to start driving the system can stop the car from being started if alcohol is detected.
In a demonstration on Thursday a message flashed up on the car's navigation screen and a voice calmly advised the driver: "The sensor has detected alcohol from your palm. You cannot use the shift. Please refrain from driving by yourself."
There are also sensors on the two front seats mounted at about neck level and one in the back seat.
A second system in the car uses a camera mounted in front of the driver to monitor eye movement. If the driver is drowsy it triggers the seat belt to tighten and this movement will hopefully snap the driver out of their drowsiness or prompt them to take a rest. A voice alert also sounds and a message pops up on the navigation screen.
In the prototype the system quickly administered a few jerks to the seat belt when the driver simulated tiredness.
A third system monitors the path of the vehicle to ensure it's traveling in a straight line and not weaving about the road, as is common with a drunken driver. This also triggers the voice and visual alerts and pulls the seat belt when signs of drunk driving or drowsiness are detected.
All three systems are prototypes and Nissan doesn't have a timeline to employ them in production cars. They have been developed as part of the company's Vision 2015 goal, which is to halve deaths that occur in accidents involving its vehicles by 2015.
This month it began tests with three local authorities in Japan in which off-the-shelf "Interlock" systems have been fitted into government vehicles to prevent drunk driving. The systems are less sophisticated than Nissan's sensors and require the drive blow into a Breathalyzer in order to start the vehicle.
As part of the Vision 2015 plan the company also unveiled on Thursday a system that pops the hood of the car up a few centimeters to reduce injuries in the case of a collision between a car and pedestrian.
The hood is raised to increase the space and provide a protective gap between it and the engine component, so when the pedestrian's head impacts the hood it is less likely to slam into the hard engine block underneath.
A sensor in the car's bumper detects a collision and relays this information to a control box that calculates the severity of the impact and whether to trigger an explosive actuator that will raise the hood. In a demonstration of the system at Nissan's crash test laboratory here on Thursday, the entire process took just milliseconds.
The pop-up hood system is ready for commercialization and will be seen first in the new Skyline coupe that is due out later this year in Japan.