Nissan Motor Co. has tapped into an unlikely source of inspiration for technology to prevent car crashes -- bumblebees. The Biomimetic Car Robot Drive, or BR23C, is a meter-high duckling-shaped robot with a sensor that recreates the highly complex eyes of a bumblebee. The robot can detect an object up to two meters (2.2 yards) away in a 180-degree radius. It swerves away on wheels when a person or an object suddenly appears in front of it.
While the robot now looks like a toy -- its eyes light up and turn red or blue when it spots an obstacle -- Nissan hopes eventually to put the technology into cars.
"The split second it detects an obstacle, it will instantly change direction by turning its wheels to a right angle or further to avoid collision," said Toshiyuki Ando, a Nissan engineer who led research efforts. "The whole process must mirror what a bee does to avoid other bees. It must happen with the blink of an eye," he said.
Japan's third largest automaker teamed up with researchers from the University of Tokyo to develop part of the system, which calculates the distance to an object and then sends the information back into the car.
The robot was showcased at the CEATEC, or Cutting-edge IT Comprehensive Exhibition, which opened on Sept. 30 outside Tokyo for a week-long run bringing together 804 electronics companies showing their goods.
Nissan hopes to install the technology in its electric vehicles -- such as the Pivo 2 which has wheels that turn 90 degrees -- as it tries to become a leader in next-generation eco-friendly vehicles.
"Electric vehicles have wheels that can move at various angles and so with this technology installed, the possibility of quickly escaping a crash or avoiding an obstacle increases," Ando said.
Nissan aims to start selling an electric car in the U.S. and Japan in 2010 and the rest of the world in 2012.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008