What do you think of when you hear the words "autonomous driving"? You might imagine a self-driving car, safer travel, innovation, or a digital future. Or how about … a school of fish?
In their quest to develop the cars of tomorrow, Nissan engineers draw on many sources of knowledge and inspiration. One source that has helped them learn how autonomous vehicles can avoid collisions is Mother Nature.
Inspired by the behavior of fish forming a school while swimming, the engineers developed Eporo, a robot designed to demonstrate how cars can move safely and efficiently, whether alone or in a group.
Eporo doesn’t use map information. Instead, each robot recognizes the other units around it, thinks for itself and makes decisions. As the robots travel together in formation, they move independently without colliding.
Robots with laser beams
How did the robots “learn” this from fish? Nissan’s engineers studied how schools of fish, such as sardines, swim in dense formations while avoiding running into obstacles or each other.
Generally speaking, fish recognize their surroundings both through sight and their "lateral line” sense, enabled by pores along their body that can detect movement, vibration and pressure variations in the water around them. To mimic this, Eporo uses ultra-wide band communication technology and a laser range finder, which play the roles of sight and lateral line sense, respectively.
As multiple Eporo robots travel together, they use the ultra-wide band communication technology to transmit and receive signals from each other, exchanging information about their position, speed and orientation, while distance is calculated based on the signals’ round-trip time. At the same time, each unit’s laser range finder emits a beam to measure the distance to various obstacles.
As a result, the robot formation can freely change its shape and travel safely and efficiently in a variety of environments. Using their sensors, they can move smoothly around corners, navigate roads that narrow suddenly, and avoid obstacles. When encountering a bottleneck, the robots can continue to move forward while maintaining an appropriate distance.
Preventing congestion and accidents
Eporo is part of Nissan’s decades-long pursuit of new technologies that can make cars safer and more intelligent. Under its Nissan NEXT transformation plan, the company is expanding the number of models equipped with advanced driver assistance features, such as the ProPILOT system, in markets around the world.
If Eporo’s technologies can be adapted to automobiles, it could help alleviate traffic congestion, reduce accidents and make driving more enjoyable and stress-free.
Now with its own manga
The Eporo “family” includes seven robots – and like real motorists, each has its own driving style. A unit named Silver leads everyone, while another named Choco has an impatient personality and likes to accelerate.
Eporo has proved to be a popular ambassador for Nissan, appearing at motor shows and other events in the U.S., China, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, India and Australia since it was first introduced in 2009.
Recently, Eporo began starring in its own manga, or comic strip, launched by Nissan to communicate with younger audiences about technology.
Eporo with Nissan Designer who draws Eporo manga