The Japanese car manufacturer Nissan has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. The arrest and subsequent long detention (until just recently) of former CEO Carlos Ghosn has cast a pall over the company, and has led many to worry about its future. Japan has taken criticism from abroad for its criminal framework, which enabled prosecutors to keep Ghosn imprisoned for 108 days ahead of trial.
But for Nissan's employees, every day is just another day at work - another opportunity to not only move their business forward, but, occasionally, push the envelope and expand our notion of the possible. And last week, Nissan announced an initiative that might even tear the envelope a little.
Nissan has announced, in conjunction with Docomo (one of Japan's largest cellular network companies) that it's started a trial of an in-car avatar system that will enable projection of someone's image into an empty seat in a vehicle. Dubbed the "Invisible to Visible" system - or I2V for short - the new tech was demoed on a test track for the press. A participant strapped on a pair of goggles and, holding what appear to be two large joysticks in either hand, interacted with the driver, who saw her rendered as a 3-dimensional holographic image in the vehicle.
(JP) Link: Nissan, with Docomo, Premieres Proof-of-Concept for In-Car Appearance of Avatar While Driving
Nissan partnered with Docomo to take advantage of Docomo's new 5G network. On average, 5G can download data up to three times faster than current LTE networks, and can deliver up to 5x less latency - 50ms latency as opposed to 10ms, which is critical for translating a virtual participant's movements into actions by an avatar.
The current system is obviously a very, very early prototype. The headset the avatar-projecting participant wore looks like something from a Terminator film, and the joysticks she's holding are reminiscent of cell phones circa 1985. But Nissan has set a stake in the ground and proclaimed they'll have the tech ready for market by 2025. And there are a lot of hardware and software development person-hours between now and then.
This form factor of the caller is what interests me the most. Obviously, for this tech to be of any use to anyone, it has to be non-intrusive, easy to pick up/put down, and - the clincher - cheap. Or, at least, not crazy expensive. If the current form factor doesn't slim down, it's obviously going to stay stuck in Crazy-Idea Prototype Land, and never see a real market.
Which raises the question: What is the market? Even in a slimmed-down form, this rig would be too much hassle for most people to want to bother with. I can't see a company making an investment in this, for example, just so an exec can have a casual meeting in her limo. (Of course, maybe I underestimate the super-rich.)
The one immediate, practical use I can see is roadside assistance. In the case of a vehicle breakdown or accident, having a person "on scene" quickly, even in virtual form, could be a comforting factor that helps calm people down, decreases time to problem resolution, and results in a superior customer service experience.
However this particular product pans out, it's nice to see a Japanese company nudging VR and assisted reality technology a little further forward. And it's nice to see Nissan in the news for something other than its ex-CEO for a change.
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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