How the Nissan Pivo Works

Robot on Board

Unlike most backseat drivers, this little guy shouldn’t annoy you … too much.
Unlike most backseat drivers, this little guy shouldn’t annoy you … too much.
Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

For many people, driving a car is like being in a mobile cocoon, free to ponder their thoughts, fears, hopes and favorite tunes. Unfortunately, according to Nissan, people become demonstrably worse drivers when they're upset. Too bad you can't just give up the keys and cool off for a couple of hours after a soul-sucking day at work or school.

Believe it or not, the Pivo 2's Robotic Agent might actually help with that foul mood of yours. With its oversized, electronic starburst "eyes" (actually facial recognition cameras), choreographed nods and head turns, the Robotic Agent's job is not unlike that of the fictional R2D2. The Agent keeps the driver alert and cheerful while providing important driving data like directions or distance. Fortunately, you don't need to decipher strings of chirps and whistles to understand what the Robotic Agent is saying. In videos released by Nissan, "he" clearly speaks English or Japanese in a cutesy, child-like voice. The Agent also uses complex facial-recognition programming to keep track of the driver's facial expression, including eye position, eyebrow height and even smiles and frowns.

The Robotic Agent has been compared to an in-dash bobble head doll. One automotive journalist said the Robotic Agent "looks like a starry-eyed robot-monkey head. Or an alien. Or both" [source: Jurnecka]. Lead designer Masato Inoue said Nissan was going for an organic, alive look and feel -- not to creep people out, but to engender feelings of closeness with the car.

"If the Pivo was the ultimate definition of 'cute' for a car, then the Pivo 2 is more similar to a living creature," says Inoue. "What I meant by changing the design definition was to shift from 'mechanical design concept' to a more 'human design concept.' The car becomes more like a partner via the personal-assist and companionship delivered by the Robotic Agent. This results in a feeling to 'hug it' and the 'desire to be together more."

Inoue added: "The design is the emotive part, while the movements represent innovation … most robots depicted in movies rotate their heads sideways, giving a clear impression that it is a 'machine.' Hence, we gave our Robotic Agent a vertical motion as well, as if it nods. This motion appears more 'warm' and human-like" [source: Nissan Global].

Go to the next page to find out how the original Pivo differs from Nissan's follow-up, the Pivo 2.