You’ve got to hand it to Nissan. In October, one of its prototype self-driving Nissan LEAFs chauffeured Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn around a specially-designed indoor course at a large Japanese tech conference. But on Saturday, Nissan’s self-driving car hit a new milestone: its first public test-drive on a real road.
Moreover, riding shotgun was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
While the ride itself wasn’t very long, totalling just five minutes in length, Prime Minister Abe was driven around Tokyo near Japan’s national parliament, and had a chance to see how the self-driving car handled the tight turns of Japan’s capital city.
After riding in the self-driving LEAF, Abe also rode in self-driving cars from Honda and Toyota, highlighting the Japanese government’s support for autonomous driving technology.
“Today I rode in the Autonomous Drive cars from Toyota, Honda and Nissan,” he said at the official governmental-sponsored event. ” In particular, in tough driving conditions such as tight curves and lane changing using autonomous driving, I think our Japanese technologies are among the world’s best.”
Last month, after a long wait, Nissan was the first automaker in Japan to be awarded a specialised autonomous vehicle license plate to allow it to test and refine its technology on the public roads, using a prototype self-driving LEAF as its engineering platform.
Saturday’s drive was the first time Nissan had officially tested that very vehicle outside of a specialised test track, but the automaker has said that in a few weeks — after more surface road testing — it hopes to be in a position to make the first highway test run in its self-driving EV.
Using the LEAF’s all-electric platform as a basis for future self-driving cars, Nissan will continue developing and refining its self-driving technology. While it may not be ready for production-vehicles yet, Nissan has an ambitious goal to produce a production self-driving car by 2020 at the very latest.
Before it can do so however, Nissan has to not only tackle the engineering challenges of autonomous vehicles, but the legislative ones too.
Despite its love of high-tech, Japan is no different from the U.S. or Europe.
“The role of national and local governments is very important,” said Takao Asami, Nissan’s Senior Vice President. “First of all, it’s not allowed for a human driver to fully delegate the driving operation to a machine as of today.”
“Secondly, we have to find new regulations – how to take care of accidents, if they happen, whose responsibility it will be,” he continued.
To watch the entire trip made by Prime Minster Abe in the self-driving LEAF, you can watch the video above.
Sadly, we don’t speak Japanese, but we can tell from the video that the gentleman driving the LEAF — presumably an engineer in the autonomous LEAF program — looks more than a little nervous as the Japanese PM steps in and the car pulls away.
We’re not sure if it’s the fact that the self-driving LEAF is still very much in its infancy (the driver can be seen adjusting course once or twice and nervously ‘fettling’ the car once in a while during the drive) or if it was the fact that he was in charge of safely driving the Japanese PM on a cordoned off section of road followed by numerous secret service agents in armoured cars, but there’s a visible sign of relief when the short test-drive is successfully completed without incident.
Here at Transport Evolved we’re really pleased to see such support from the Japanese government in the development of self-driving EVs. But we have to ask.
Would the Secret Service or MI5 have let President Obama or Mr. Cameron drive in a prototype autonomous car on its first ever public outing?
Some world leaders get all the fun…
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