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Not content with giving you a disembodied voice as an in-car personal assistant like BMW’s Natural Interaction, Nissan is developing its plans for three-dimensional augmented reality (AR) co-drivers who’ll answer questions and provide information about the road ahead.

Nissan unveiled its Invisible-to-Visible technology at CES 2019 in January. The system combines data from the car’s sensors with mapping and other information stored in the cloud, and presents it all in AR.

You will be able to see this presented as a 3D map inside the car, but for the personal touch, you’ll also have the option of interacting with a virtual co-driver, who’ll sit beside you on your journey.

Nissan has also elaborated on the idea of a ‘Metaverse’, which it has now defined as “a virtual world where people can interact through avatars”, providing company and assistance on long journeys. Think Ready Player One, but with less fighting and more virtual back-seat driving.

The speed of progress

It might sound odd, but Nissan is quite serious and its latest test has brought the idea a step closer to reality by using low-latency 5G to transmit data for the AR avatar to a moving vehicle at its Grandrive test facility in Japan.

Fast, low latency data connections will be essential for the next generation of in-car assistants and level-3 autonomous driving, which allows motorists to take their attention off the road to attend to navigation and entertainment. We’ll soon see 5G-ready vehicles entering production (such as the Byton M-Byte, which is due to hit the streets before the end of 2019).

However, 5G systems will need rigorous testing before they can be relied upon for safety-critical tasks. So far, 5G standards are fairly ambiguous, and it will take time for them to be set and improved.

Nissan’s virtual co-driver is an interesting concept, but at the moment it’s only possible thanks to Nissan’s close collaboration with Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo. It’s unlikely we’ll have AR buddies to keep us company on long road trips in the real world in the near future.


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