Nissan sets 2020 as the year it will begin introducing driverless vehicles, which will be designed with the capacity to navigate in almost all types of situation. This will include navigating in the city, the most complex scenario for a driverless car to operate in.
In order to reach such target, the company has entered a five-year partnership with NASA in a move to focus on the research and development of autonomous vehicles and eventually advance the system. The collaboration aims to have the technology become commercially available in the not-so-distant future.
The engineers from the two organizations will be working together at NASA's Ames Research Center, where they will be testing a fleet of zero-emission autonomous vehicles.
"The partnership will accelerate Nissan's development of safe, secure and reliable autonomous drive technology that we will progressively introduce to consumers beginning in 2016 up to 2020," said president and CEO Carlos Ghosn of Nissan Motor Co.
Nissan feels excited about the future of self-driving cars, which are believed to have the necessary mechanism in enhancing safety while promoting the low emission technology at the same time.
The safety technology that is up in the pipeline includes sensor-filled cars, which are smart enough to detect a possible collision and respond to it by braking automatically. All of these occur without having the need for the driver to do any action. It will also include vehicles that can park without any driver inside.
The terms of the partnership are expected to be beneficial on the part of NASA because of Nissan's shared expertise in a number of areas. These include innovative component technology, shared research, access to prototype systems and provision of robotic software test beds.
"Ames developed Mars rover planning software, robots onboard the International Space Station and Next Generation air traffic management systems to name a few. We look forward to applying knowledge developed during this partnership toward future space and aeronautics endeavors," said S. Pete Worden, director of Ames Research Center.
Rovers that roam the Red Planet may not be wholly autonomous, but Nissan can learn a lot from them. NASA has so far proven its capacity to remotely manipulate vehicles that are millions of miles away from Earth, which is something that requires the highest level of engineering. Automakers like Nissan can learn a lot from NASA's expertise in building systems that are impressively durable and reliable and in making the interaction between man and machine highly achievable.
One of the toughest challenges that confront autonomous vehicles is navigating urban environments by themselves. This is because cities have a number of variables, such as cyclists, pedestrians, construction, double-parked trucks and more. The environment poses a chaotic atmosphere, which makes it difficult to develop a system that is smart and fast enough to cope with the situation.
"We gain time, we gain knowledge, we gain expertise," said Ghosn. "That's what the whole thing is about ... moving as fast as we can."