A Car That Drives You (to Save Gas)

Nissan's ECO-pedal provides tactile feedback whenever drivers accelerate in a fuel-wasting manner

Slow Down, Says the Car, You're Going Too Fast
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Your car is going to drive you to work someday. Until then, car makers are experimenting with ideas that take control away from you in subtle, helpful ways – mostly to help increase fuel efficiency.

The latest example is the Nissan ECO-pedal system, which will be available in models starting next year. Although the company says they have no "test mules" (e.g., car prototypes) anywhere in the world, they have tested the ECO-pedal in their lab. When the driver accelerates too much, the ECO-pedal system pushes back – automatically slowing down the driver to save fuel. There's also a visual indicator: a green ECO-P light emits from the speedometer and it flashes when fuel economy is degrading faster. Burn rubber too fast, and the ECO-pedal light will flash and turn yellow as a warning.

According to Nissan, the ECO-pedal can improve fuel efficiency by 5-10 percent.

Of course, many newer automobiles already have fuel efficiency indicators that warn you when you are accelerating too fast. With more tactile feedback – a slight nudge, as opposed to an overpowering mechanism that could irritate drivers – we can respond faster. In fact, tactile response helps us understand our surroundings as we drive, cutting through the clutter of lights and sounds.

Drivers will be able to disable the ECO-pedal. The system also senses driving conditions based on the state of the car transmission and engine, so if you are in a traffic jam the pedal will operate differently from when you are cruising down the highway. The ECO-pedal reminds me of the force feedback system used on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles which cause a slight rumbling effect – eventually, your brain learns to accept the tactile feedback and make it part of the game. ECO-pedal will likely work the same way: it will slowly become part of your driving pattern, not a constant irritant.