Future proofing Nissan LEAF technology

by Ernie Hernandez on April 10, 2012

Da Vinci Helicopter

Nissan works directly with Intel

One of the biggest challenges facing all automakers today is the fact that digital technological changes occur much more rapidly than automotive platform development changes. What we mean by this can be demonstrated by a quick look at the last several years and compare the developmental difference between the two areas.

In April of 2006, Nissan introduced the fourth generation Nissan Altima at the New York Auto Show. With minor changes, this vehicle has gone on to become the second best selling automobile in the United States behind the Toyota Camry. Just last week, Nissan announced its replacement – the all new 2013 Altima.

The original Apple iPhone was introduced in January of 2007 at MacWorld, first going on sale in June that same year. Apple is now on its fifth generation iPhone and its third generation iPad, which did not even exist until 2010, only two short years ago. With the prevalence of both of these devices (iPhone sales have gone from less than a quarter million in its first three months to 37 million just in the first quarter of this year), it is difficult to remember the time before their existence.

We bring this point up because we consumers are a very demanding lot. Once we get used to the idea of being able to walk down the street and find a Thai restaurant on our phone, pull up their menu, check out reviews and get directions to it, all in a moment or two, the idea of a car that does not take care of our digital needs in the same way is extremely unsatisfying. The challenge is stated above – a car platform just does not change as rapidly as a digital platform does. This is where the collaboration with Intel comes in.

We mentioned the all new NissanConnect just a couple of days ago, Nissan’s on-board smartphone communication system similar to GM’s OnStar or Ford’s Sync. Nissan also introduced the concept of a twin screen display in the Infiniti LE electric car at the New York Auto Show. While currently a concept, Infiniti has plans to offer the system on production models in 2013. And one nagging area of complaint with LEAF owners has been the range remaining indicator on the LEAF’s dash letting one know how much further they can drive. Personally, I wish that Nissan had never put the numbers up there and just put the 12 bars indicating the battery state of charge. People can relate to a gas tank going from empty to full. But when you start telling them that they can go XX number of miles, no wait… now you can go XX miles… oh, no… this just in… now you can go XX miles… well, you can start to see the frustration of LEAF owners. Nissan has massaged the algorithms yet again to improve the accuracy. What they really need to do is provide an “Off” button to be able to just make it go away.

So what does Nissan’s collaboration with Intel have to do with all of this? Everything. In the video below, we see snippets of interviews with Nissan’s Executive Vice President Andy Palmer discussing in-car technologies. Just after the two minute point, Mr. Palmer mentions the idea of joining with Intel to “future proof” some of these technological changes. In addition, we see Ton Steenman, a vice president with Intel’s Intelligent Systems Group discussing this cooperative arrangement and the ways that Nissan and Intel are working together to improve the human-machine interface – such as the twin touch screen coming in future Infiniti models, and likely Nissan upper end models some time after that. This four minute video is well worth watching.

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