Grinning grills may be about to make a comeback, and I don't mean those mile-wide chrome smiles formerly plastered across the snouts of Detroit's finned fifties freeway flyers. Nope, you won't find much chrome on Nissan's "Smiling Vehicle" concept but you WILL find much to smile about... in fact, you'll be smiling back.
The Nissan Motor Design Center and Hara Design Institute are displaying the prototype vehicle - actually a shrunken Nissan Cube - at the Tokyo Fiber '09 Senseware show. The car's body panels are covered in a soft & stretchy polyurethane elastomer fiber made by Asahi Kasei called ROICA.
Not only does this allow the car to have flexible outer skin (ideal for absorbing parking lot dings), it allows for the installation of animatronic hardware hidden beneath the panels that can distort areas of the body by 500% to 900%. Even more importantly, the skin has "memory" and can snap right back to its original configuration. Check out this short video of the Smiling Car in action at the Senseware show:
NDC and HDI are touting a number of applications for ROICA that go beyond automotive use, including clothing (outerwear, innerwear and sportswear) and shoes, but by adding a mechanical smile to the Nissan's face they instantly create an empathetic bond with human onlookers. Smile at somebody and they'll usually smile back, and vice versa - try it! Now how would you feel if a car driving in your direction should suddenly flash a grin?
According to Diginfo-TV's report, "Sounding a horn has negatives connotations, but if cars could smile a new method of communication while driving could evolve. This work considers the car as an extension of the driver’s character, and suggests that it might give rise to emotional exchanges." (via Technabob and Diginfo-TV)