Carmaker believes that the solution for a standalone car without fail is in the availability of a human to give support when the vehicle encounters difficulties
Nissan is focusing its efforts to place fully autonomous cars on the streets of Tokyo by 2020. The project aims to offer commercial vehicles without a driver that could deliver orders or carry people on short trips.
The work will begin this year with DeNA, a Japanese Internet company, and the first tests will be held in areas intended for stand-alone cars in Japan. The 2020 deadline is aggressive, but Nissan probably has the Tokyo Olympics in mind.
A key part of the technology is something that Nissan is calling "autonomous and flawless mobility," which would basically be a human assistant on hand to help standalone vehicles when they find something that is not on their schedule. For example, if human drivers find something that blocks half a road, they would wait until it was safe and then cross over to the obstacle.
But a standalone car is programmed to never cross the centerline, so it would stand in that situation for hours. Working with NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, engineers at Nissan's technology center are demonstrating a version of the technology where a car without a driver "connects" to a human operator. The operator looks at the sensor output of the car to find out the problem and sends instructions on what the vehicle should do.
"This technology will make it possible for more autonomous vehicles to be on the road sooner," said Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's CEO, during a talk at CES in Las Vegas.
Nissan has set four levels of technology while working for fully autonomous cars. The first allows cars to stay on their tracks and at a safe distance from other vehicles, which is already a reality in Japan.
Called ProPilot, the technology equips a Nissan's Serena minivan and will be coming to a new version of the Nissan Leaf electric car. Stage Two is a system for autonomous driving on multipath roads, which includes the ability to change lanes. Such a skill is designed to appear in cars next year. The third step is fully automatic driving within the city. This is the level of technology that Nissan expects to begin in Tokyo in 2020. The last stage will bring fully autonomous cars that can drive and take to the roads anywhere. Nissan has not provided a date for this technology, but said it will increase the tests this year as it works to make it a reality. Earlier, the automaker had said it planned to offer 10 models of cars with some level of autonomous driving by 2020.