For most teenagers, learning to drive is a long and arduous right of passage filled with hours of practice and that all-important practical test. For British learners, learning to drive can take more than a year, and requires passing not one but three separate tests.
For Nissan’s self-driving LEAF electric hatchback however, the process of learning to drive seems practically effortless. Just two weeks ago, Nissan’s autonomous LEAF tentatively took to the public roads around Japan’s national parliament buildings for the first time, with Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, as its passenger.
Yesterday, it completed its first high-speed highway test, driving along the Sagami Expressway, southwest of Yokohama in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan.
With the same engineer sat behind the wheel who had supervised the trip made by Mr. Abe earlier this month, the autonomous LEAF tackled some of the usual maneuvers you’d expect to carry out on any highway or freeway trip, entering the high-speed road from an on-ramp, merging with traffic, and overtaking slower traffic without any human input.
“I feel that we are very near to creating fully autonomous cars,” said Nissan Vice Chairman Toshiyuki Shiga, who rode in the autonomous prototype during the test. “We entered the highway, overtook slower cars, and got off the highway, entirely in autonomous mode.”
Driving at speeds between 40 kph and 80 kph (25-50 mph) the autonomous LEAF was not only able to keep up with traffic, but act like any other car on the road.
“We entered the highway very slowly, at 40 kph, and driving at 80 kph on the highway. Autonomous drive is becoming very realistic now,” Shiga said.
Governor of the Kanagawa prefecture Yuju Kuroiwa also rode in the autonomous LEAF during the test. The Kanagawa prefecture will host Nissan’s autonomous drive proving ground and Governor Kuroiwa was impressed by his initial experience in the car.
“This technology is still in its infant stage,” he said. “It lacks road experience but by accumulating those experiences, the technology will evolve further. The more it learns from driving time, the more intelligent the system becomes, as well as safer. I was amazed by the capabilities of this car.”
Ordinarily, we’d not report on an evolving technology like this so much, but we’re so impressed with the speed at which Nissan’s autonomous driving technology seems to be improving that we think it merits mentioning when another important milestone is reached.
Of course, Nissan’s self-driving technology is still many years from implementation, but with Nissan promising to bring autonomous driving technology across its entire range of vehicles — which includes EVs — we have to admit to being more than a little excited about the possibility of a car which can take control of the driving on boring monotonous trips like the school run, shopping expeditions and of course, the congestion-filled commute.
But what would you do with all the time saved by letting the car do the driving for you? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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