NEW YORK – Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s pioneering Sky Project in Japan will have 2,000 test vehicles involved in the project by the end of June, says Robert K. Yakushi, director-product safety, Nissan North America Inc.

The Sky Project is a 2-phase intelligent transportation system that began last year on conventional roads in Kanagawa prefecture to help reduce traffic fatalities and injuries to children.

The second phase of the project now is under way at the Nissan technical center in the same prefecture. It focuses on reducing pedestrian accidents and vehicle collisions caused by traffic-signal oversight. The research also aims to reduce congestion caused by traffic lights and right-turn backups.

In a presentation at the recent World Safety Symposium held here, Yakushi says preliminary data shows Nissan is making substantial progress towards its goal of lowering vehicle accidents in Japan and the U.S.

The auto maker is seeking to reduce accidents from 1.14 per 100 million miles (161 million km) traveled in 2005 to 0.81 per 100 million miles traveled by 2015.

Sky Project was launched last fall in Yokohama by equipping about 200 young children and 200 designated guardians with bracelets that relay signals to 100 Nissan vehicles taking part in the test within a 2-sq.-mile (5-sq.-km) area in Aoba-ku, Yokohama City.

Nissan employees drive most of the vehicles, but a growing number are driven by volunteers from the public.

Test vehicles passing through the area receive an audible warning: “Children nearby, please be careful.” An icon also appears on the car’s navigation screen carrying the same warning.

Yakushi, recently elected to the board of directors of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, says several hundred Nissan employee vehicles are involved in the tech-center demonstration. Unlike Yokohama, no public-sector volunteers participate in this program.

At the tech center, drivers are exposed to real-world traffic situations. Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication allows synchronized communication between the test cars and traffic lights.

The vehicles run on two main intersecting roads at the tech center: one running east/west for 1.2 miles (2 km) and the other located north/south for 0.6 miles (1 km). Each road has multiple intersections and crosswalks, as well as an advanced traffic-signal system specifically designed for the project.

The signals are optimized to allow pedestrians enough time to cross the road before the traffic lights change. Nissan particularly is focusing on situations where pedestrians cross against the light when they think there are no oncoming vehicles. The auto maker hopes to eliminate this type of accident.

During light daytime traffic, the pedestrian signal remains green and the driver’s light is red. When a vehicle approaches and stops at the red light, the onboard system communicates with the signal and causes it to turn green. But Nissan says pedestrians always have the right of way.

Also, as the driver approaches an intersection, the system synchronizes the timing of the green light to minimize the need for repeated vehicle stops and acceleration in order to optimize fuel economy in city driving.

Traffic data is acquired from the test vehicles in the closely controlled environment of the tech center without any onboard vehicle modification. The vehicle data input and traffic signal output at intersections are thoroughly analyzed.

Later, Nissan plans to equip the test cars with vehicle-information and communications systems.

However, like the Yokohama child-safety test, the tech-center traffic signals are displayed on the navigation screen when a vehicle approaches a traffic light.

“The most remarkable feature of the (Yokohama) project is that many of our customers will participate,” Yakushi says. “It will provide them with an increased appreciation for the technology.”

Yagushi says Nissan plans to expand the Sky Project to additional roads in the prefecture.

“We’re looking at commercialization of the (Sky Project) technology in Japan in 2010 with a nationwide launch,” he says. “Then we will look at global deployment.”

In addition, Nissan plans to increase the application of active safety systems in Nissan and Infiniti models in coming years.

Lane-change warning systems, which already are available on some Infiniti models, gradually will be offered across the line (including Nissan-brand vehicles). Yaguchi declines to give target dates for this development.