Even though the Leaf is not slated to hit showrooms until December, Nissan is already looking at what can be done to further leverage the unique values of the electric vehicle for future models. Nissan North America recently looked to students in Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Product Development program to develop real-world innovations for Nissan electric vehicles.
“The car itself is a game-changer, but we also know that by 2015 there may be 37 EVs or plug-in hybrids in the marketplace, so our moment of being unique is fairly short and we have to make hay really fast,” said Mark Perry, Director of Electric Vehicle Programs, Nissan.
The program combined faculty and researchers from CMU’s College of Engineering, School of Design, and Tepper School of Business. Professionals from Nissan’s advanced planning and product development groups, engineers from Nissan Technical Center, and researchers and designers from Nissan Design America supported the students as they executed their projects.
The class was divided into six teams, each made up of five to seven students, who then spent the 15-week semester working toward a single concept for the second-generation Leaf that leveraged the values of an EV and focused on youth and/or affordability. AEI was invited to the campus of CMU in Pittsburgh to see the students give their final course presentations to professors and a panel of Nissan representatives.
A healthier environment
Team 1 focused on health-minded customers with the introduction of the three-part “Recharge Your Health” system comprising a shoulder tension relaxer, posture pressure sensor, and adjustable footrest. The system was designed to “recharge the healthfulness” of one’s commute by improving posture, increasing blood flow, and reducing muscle tension.
The shoulder tension relaxer provides heat and massaging to the neck and shoulder area via seat-mounted controls and features a rack-and-pinion mechanism to accommodate drivers of different heights.
The adjustable footrest, with seat-mounted controls, features a 12-in (305-mm) linear range of motion and 90° angular pedal movement to encourage proper leg alignment and improve blood circulation.
The posture pressure sensor is activated via the in-dash display. After a one-time calibration where a person is asked to sit with correct posture for 15 s, the seat-mounted sensors detect if the driver is leaning forward or slouching; the display reminds the driver to correct his/her posture.
Team 2 chose to focus on maintaining a healthy and clean interior of the vehicle with its Clean Car System, made up of the MiRoVa (mini robot vacuum) and PurAir air-purification system.
The MiRoVa is both a stand-alone hand vacuum and robotic vacuum that travels along a preprogrammed path on the floor.
“A small microcontroller on board has the known quantity of the car mapped out, so it knows the layout of the car and, therefore, it can vacuum along the same path every time it moves around,” said Michael Reese, a CMU student pursuing a master’s degree in product development.
MiRoVa also features an IR proximity sensor that detects objects in its way and, thus, avoids them. A floating center console enables the MiRoVa to get from the front to the back of the car and also houses the home charging station.
With the PurAir system, air is drawn through a white charcoal air filter, capturing pollutants, chemicals, and odors, and then proceeds down through a UV light that purifies and sanitizes the air before moving back into the environment.
“[White charcoal] has some incredible properties of absorbing odors, particles, and other vehicle off gases,” Reese said. “It’s a completely cradle-to-cradle filtration device. After you’re finished with it, you crumble it up, put it in the dirt, and grow more wood to make more charcoal.”
Both the MiRoVA and PurAir operate when the car is off, taking advantage of the charging capabilities of the EV.
Keeping your cool
Team 3 took advantage of the benefits of the EV by addressing the problems inherent in grocery shopping. The Nissan Fresh concept is a trunk organization system focused on grocery transport and management.
“One thing we found is that customers, after they do grocery shopping, feel the need to return directly home, which basically limits what they can do after they go grocery shopping,” said Greg Fulco, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration.
The complete system—made up of an adjustable organization compartment, bamboo cargo cover, and small refrigerator—is mounted flush with the bumper so that it doesn’t interfere with traditional cargo space.
Unlike a typical fabric cargo cover, the bamboo cargo cover can support hundreds of pounds and is fully retractable, exposing an organization compartment with repositionable divider beneath that area with 6 ft³ (0.2 m³) of storage. The system also comes with Nissan-branded reusable bags made of eco-friendly jute.
The 1-ft³ (0.3 m³) refrigerator cools to 40° (4°C) and can stay cool for 2 h. The refrigerator can be activated from the dashboard or smart phone and features a two-stage cooling process. The vehicle’s A/C system cools the unit to 80° (27°C) and then Peltier coolers take the temperature down to 40°.
The team also addressed the problem of cold air escaping the unit upon opening, thereby eliminating or minimizing any active cooling after the initial period.
“It’s basically a neoprene screen with a slit in it that allows you to load your groceries through the slit and prevent any air from escaping, and then when you unload, the neoprene screen is on a hinge so you can get a clear view in,” Fulco said.
Wasted time and waste bins
The remaining teams presented solutions dealing with an interactive windshield for entertainment and connectivity during idle time; an in-car workstation; and a vehicle trash, recycling, and organization system.
Team 4’s interactive windshield, dubbed Nissan Idle, addressed the problem of wasted time while charging or waiting for friends in a parked car and consisted of a windshield display utilizing OLED technology, a wireless Bluetooth controller and tray, and a phone dock.
Citing the fact that 60% of EV adopters do not own homes, Team 5 also chose to enhance the out-of-home charging experience with its Nissan Productivity Package.
The package’s retractable desk incorporated into the center console rotates freely and allows drivers to remain productive while their car is charging. An easily accessible drawer beneath the center of the rear seat houses a Nissan personalized laptop bag, making use of the extra space in an EV where a hump exists in conventionally powered vehicles.
Team 6 addressed the need for a vehicle trash, recycling, and organization system as a way of streamlining the organizational and trash needs of young parents. The trash console fits as any console would between passenger and driver seat and incorporates recycle and trash bins that can accommodate one week’s worth of trash.
Megan Stanton of Nissan’s Advanced Planning & Strategy group and a CMU alum credited the students for what they were able to accomplish over the course of just a semester.
“What you guys just did in this 15-week period takes us years, takes us departments, takes us countries,” she said. “You’ve set forth a big challenge for us to try to keep these ideas alive and moving within our company.”
Nissan's Joetta Gobell echoed Stanton’s comments and stated that some of the concepts put forth by the students may be integrated into a concept car at the LA Auto Show this fall.
“You guys really helped us think about how the EV can actually address some universal problems people have with car ownership in new and unique ways,” Gobell said.