By 2020, Nissan expects to have fully-autonomous vehicles on the road but, in order to do that, Nissan will have to prove that they will be just as safe, or safer, than vehicles with human drivers.
In the state of New York, once your get your driver’s permit, you need to drive with a licensed passenger for a certain period of time, until you have enough experience behind the wheel. You’ll have to operate under certain restrictions, as well, until you pass your road test and written exam to get your full license. The semi-autonomous-vehicle Nissan LEAF, basically a test-bed for autonomous driving technologies, has just been granted its permit in Japan, so the car can practice its driving in real-world conditions.
There is only so much experience that one can learn on a test-track, devoid of real traffic and human-piloted vehicles, with other human beings standing on the sidelines behind barricades, some of those with their hands on the kill switch. I’m speaking, of course, of autonomous vehicle testing that’s been run by DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], with the aim of testing various autonomous vehicles to see how they react to other autonomous vehicles on a test track. Watch bystanders cheer as their autonomous vehicle, a Chevy Suburban, as it successfully avoids hitting other vehicles and makes a turn into traffic without incident…
Of course, if Nissan is going to produce fully autonomous vehicles, they’ll have to test the technology in the real world, with real traffic conditions, like stop-and-go traffic, highway cruising, highway traffic congestion, and emergency maneuvers. Nissan’s new permit will allow Nissan engineers to test exactly these things with a semi-autonomous Nissan LEAF, to test a few things, such as keeping between the lines, exiting the highway automatically, changing lanes automatically to overtake slower vehicles or in anticipation of an exit maneuver. The semi-autonomous Nissan LEAFwill also be able to slow down or stop behind highway congestion, and stop automatically at a red light. There will still be a human driver to drive during other parts of the commute or, in case of emergency, take the wheel, the car automatically relinquishing control to the human driver.
Note: The 20-20 designation reflects Nissan’s goal of having autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020, with a zero-fatality pledge. Nissan LEAF, zero emissions, zero fatalities?
Image © Nissan Motor Company