Invisible to Visible Tech: Nissan Self Driving Cars May Soon Come with a Virtual Companion
Wed, April 21, 2021

Invisible to Visible Tech: Nissan Self Driving Cars May Soon Come with a Virtual Companion

Nissan is now developing a technology where individuals can communicate with their loved ones, who will be represented by digital avatars. / Photo by: Jonathan Weiss via Shutterstock


Japanese multinational automobile manufacturer Nissan is now developing an “invisible to visible” technology so passengers can communicate with their friends and loved ones, who will be represented by digital avatars. The company believes that the virtual companion will make life on the road less lonely. This was reported by tech platform TechRadar.

Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and holograms

While current in-car personal assistants exist only in terms of voice, Nissan wants to up the game by using a combination of augmented reality and artificial intelligence so that the virtual companion can also answer questions and provide other information about the direction the driver is heading into. The company said that the feature requires a high-speed internet connection. 

Nissan demonstrated the technology to a few audiences by allowing the reporters to interact with three-dimensional holograms directed by individuals wearing motion-capture technology. Daisuke Saito, the company’s senior manager for mobility and artificial intelligence laboratory, commented that the avatars “look amazing.” It was as if the companion was really sitting beside them. Male avatars were not yet available during the demonstrations.

The prototype examples of the holograms

Saito said that customers can invite the avatar versions of their friends to sit with them in the car and have a chat with them. It depends on the user who they want to connect with, he added. That way, although the person cannot be there physically, at least they can be invited in for a talk. It makes traffic entertaining, too, the manager went on to say.

Since the technology is still in development, Saito added that people who want to see the virtual companion will have to wear bulky headsets that have transparent displays so they can still look clearly in front of them, especially for the drivers. The company stated that they want the technology to be miniaturized to the same size as that of a contact lens and they plan to unveil the technology in line with autonomous vehicles.


Nissan plans to unveil the virtual companion technology in line with autonomous vehicles. / Photo by: metamorworks via Shutterstock


The use of artificial intelligence

According to the automobile manufacturer, it is also possible in the future to create an AI character even without human input. For now, though, it needs another person to be on the other side to connect to the virtual companion. Saito sees other purposes for the technology beyond self-driving cars. For example, it can be used for “matching service.” For example, a pizza chain may use a virtual character to take the order of the person inside the vehicle. It merges the experience, the manager said.

Nissan also showed off its smooth-driving technology, which gives drivers a greater sense of control, safety, and driver confidence. The technology minimizes the shaking during stop-and-go situations because it balances the force felt by the car.

The five stages of automation

US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has established the levels that determine the amount of control that a person or a computer has over a vehicle. The levels range from 0, which means no automation, to 5, which means full automation. In Level 1, the driver handles all the steering, functions, brakes, and lane monitoring. In Level 2 or assisted driving, the vehicle handles some functions, including emergency braking. In Level 3 or partially automated cars, the vehicle handles at least 2 functions, like lane-centering and cruise control. In Level 4 or highly-automated cars, the vehicle handles all the functions but the driver is still required to take control of these functions. The fully automated level means that no driver is needed. 

As self-driving cars are increasing their levels of autonomy, memory technologies are not the only ones being given importance, but also graphics and entertainment. 

Utilizing AI in cars makes it safer and less stressful both for the drivers and passengers. Senior expert for vehicle architecture automated driving in the Bosch Chassis Systems Control division Dr. Oliver Pink previously said, “Artificial intelligence is the key to automated driving. Equipping cars with it is a bit like teaching students.” The AI helps the car understand its surroundings so it can react properly and make a decision. It can also predict how a situation will develop, like when a ball will roll into the street. This is when AI will reduce the speed of the car.

Artificial intelligence, virtual assistants: statistics

A Boston Consulting Group and MIT Sloan Management Review study showed that 84 percent of businesses nowadays believe that AI will enable them to sustain or obtain a competitive advantage. Meanwhile, 80 percent of technology and business leaders admit that AI creates jobs and boosts their productivity. According to a separate report by research firm Markets and Markets, the AI market will continue to grow to become a $190 billion industry by 2025. Aside from the automotive industry, AI also has a significant impact on telecommunications, media, healthcare, and banking industries. 

46 percent of US adults now use digital assistants to interact with devices and 72 percent of business executives said that digital assistants are making their lives easier. The combination of AI and virtual assistants, two booming forces in the technology and business industries, will surely be something to look forward to.