Nissan will soon sell cars that drive like a video game, with sensors and software that assist or even take over for drivers in emergencies.
The company said Wednesday its new technology will be the world's first to do away the mechanical connection between steering and control of vehicles, replacing it with an electronic one. As drivers spin and twist their steering wheels in the new cars, information will be sent digitally to processors and motors that control the wheels on the ground.
Nissan will launch the new system in cars including its Infiniti brand globally within the next 12 months. Human driving will become one of many inputs in the vehicles, with software providing added control or even taking over in dangerous situations. Tactile feedback will be sent to drivers to make up for the lost "feel" of the road.
"The system controls and insulates the vehicle from unnecessary road-generated disturbances to deliver only the necessary performance feel to the driver," the company said.
A spokesman said specific details are still to be determined, although the feature will come as standard on certain models, as opposed to being sold as an add-on.
The company said digitally controlled cars will mean, for instance, that drivers no longer have to grasp their steering wheels more tightly through rough patches in streets. Cars will also use a camera mounted above the rearview mirror to scan the road ahead and help keep themselves in their current lane.
Nissan will also launch an additional "Autonomous Emergency Steering System" that acts to avoid accidents that can't be avoided by slamming on the brakes. A detection system consisting of several radar units, a front-mounted camera, and five laser scanners arrayed around the vehicle will detect if a collision is imminent, then indicate a clear path to the driver when it is too late to stop.
If the driver doesn't immediately respond, the car will take over and automatically steer to avoid an accident.
While Nissan is pitching the new technology as an aid to drivers and a form of computer-assisted driving, it is sure to raise safety concerns.
Nissan said the electronic control of vehicles will be handled by multiple control units, with backups for when one fails. A "backup clutch" will connect the steering wheel and the wheels on the ground automatically in situations where electronic control fails all together.
Some carmakers, including Nissan, have also shown cars that can drive or park themselves over short distances, and firms like Google are testing completely driverless cars in the US.