The Nissan IDS: Choice is the Key to the Future of Self-driving Cars

With autonomous driving the rage these days, you’d think Honda or Toyota would be first to roll out a high-profile self-driving car.  Not so.  Nissan beat them all to the auto show turntable with the new IDS concept.  The IDS, introduced at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show is making it’s US debut at this year’s NAIAS.  This car re-thinks the idea of self-driving and how it integrates into the world around it.  Nissan didn’t just make a big splash, they blew all the water out of the pool.  And if 80% of what they’re showing makes it to the production model, this vehicle could be as revolutionary as the Prius.

Let’s look at the styling.  It has echoes of the Leaf, as it is a hatchback.  But they’re echoes, because outside of the frame, everything else has changed.  And it looks cooler than the Leaf.  Significantly cooler. I mean SIGNIFICANTLY.

Now on to the self-driving technology.  The Nissan IDS Concept has two driving modes, Manual and Piloted.  Which means Nissan sees that the road to self-driving cars will begin with giving drivers control.  Once they become comfortable, they start to cede that control back to the car.  But wait, there’s more–as Ron Popiel used to say.  The IDS learns your driving habits in Manual mode and integrates the best of them into Piloted mode.  Your driving experience is largely identical between the two.  I’m sure the artificial intelligence kicks out consistently driving 15 mph over the limit, habitual tailgating and other really bad behaviors.  The rest it keeps.

Nissan does a great job of showing off how the IDS interacts in the world of the owner and driver in the video below, “Together We Ride”.  It’s one of those “day in the life” videos.  But unlike those for other cars, this one really demonstrates how the IDS is different from what we’re seeing from Google, Mercedes, and the rest.

Nissan seems to be the only automaker that understands the key to the future of self-driving cars is through freedom of choice by drivers.  Where Google wants to take the steering wheel away, other automakers want to focus less on it.  Nissan makes it a choice; one you’re likely to opt for as the car learns your good habits.  It looks like everything in the IDS embraces this idea of choice.

Some are going to look at the IDS and how it integrates into home and personal technology and say that the car is an over-priced iPad or Surface with wheels.  They’d say the IDS is another tool of personal technology.  I’d squeeze out some of the Luddite snark and say the statement makes sense.  Since a car is a tool of personal transportation, being able to integrate it into our lives as we live them re-invigorates the relationship between owner and vehicle.

Lastly, the way the IDS integrates with the world around it makes a big impression.  Using the signboard to communicate to pedestrians, other drivers, and even passengers humanizes the technology well beyond anything we have today.

I’m going to keep an eye out for the Nissan IDS.  If they put this into production with the same sense of thought and purpose as they concept, this car could be revolutionary.

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Sebastian James

Accept no substitutes

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