Japan Auto: Trying out Nissan's Aging Suit

Posted by: Ian Rowley on February 27, 2009


Last summer, I wrote an article about Nissan and Toyota developing technologies for elderly drivers. Today, at a design seminar at Nissan’s swanky R&D center in Atsugi, about an hour’s train ride from Tokyo, I got to try out Nissan’s aging suit for size. The carmaker is using the special outfit to help engineers better understand what it feels like to be a senior driver.

The suits simulate poor balance through a raised front-toe design, use goggles that imitate failing eyesight and color blindness, and have special casts that mimic arthritic pain by making it more difficult to raise arms and legs. They also feature a 2-in.-thick waist-belt that duplicates middle-age spread. This, Nissan says, makes it harder to enter or exit a car and cramps an engineer’s movement behind the steering wheel in poorly designed seating. It might seem extreme, but Nissan points out that while older drivers occupy an increasing share of the auto market, its engineers, often in their 20s or 30s, need to know what it’s feels like to be older. In Japan, knowing what older drivers want is even more important: over 65s already account for over 20% of the population and their share is growing fast.

Assuming the suit really gives an accurate representation, I can’t say I’m looking forward to being a senior driver. My unusually heavy forearms, in particular, made holding the steering wheel uncomfortable and I could barely make out the instruments while wearing the goggles. Walking, meanwhile, was quite difficult, although that might have been as much to do with my feet which were too big for the special boots.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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