Nissan’s Autonomous LEAF Helps Open Brand-New Japanese Tunnel

Traditionally, the opening of a new road is a fairly boring affair, with some dignitary, politician, or celebrity cutting the ribbon and then taking a leisurely chauffeur-driven ride along the new road’s length.

Sometimes, road opening ceremonies are little more exciting, with a special charity run or cycle ride ahead of it being opened to the public, but in Japan last weekend Nissan helped celebrate the opening of a new tunnel by letting two of its autonomous Nissan LEAFs drive along its length.

The Ogurasan Tunnel is a brand-new 2,100 meter tunnel forming part of a road link between the Sagamihara-Aikawa Highway Interchange in the Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo’s Takao-san Interchange. Opened officially last weekend, it will cut travel times between the two regions and form the basis of an ongoing autonomous driving test zone near Nissan’s Global Headquarters.

Governor Kuroiwa says he looks forward to further developments in autonomous driving technology.

Governor Kuroiwa says he looks forward to further developments in autonomous driving technology.

Riding shotgun in one autonomous LEAF for the special 13.4 kilometre (8.33 mile) celebratory parade through the Ogurasan Tunnel was Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa, accompanied by Nissan Vice Chairman Toshiyuki Shiga.

Last November, Governor Kuroiwa was among one of the first people in the world to ride in Nissan’s self-driving LEAF, riding as a passenger in Nissan’s first ever high-speed highway test of the autonomous vehicle.

“This will be my second ride int he Autonomous Drive Vehicle, and it’s tremendously exciting,” said Governor Kuroiwa before stepping into the passenger seat for the second time. “Compared to the last time I rode in the AD vehicle, I’m looking forward to finding out how much this technology has evolved.”

It was raining when the new highway was opened.

It was raining when the new highway was opened.

While Governor Kuroiwa didn’t give his official response to riding in Nissan’s Autonomous Drive LEAF for the second time in his career, footage from the event shows the self-driving car confidently navigating the closed section of new road with ease. As with previous outings, a Nissan engineer sat behind the wheel with his hands and feet poised to intervene and take control of the car should things go wrong.

The same engineer as we’ve seen in previous Nissan autonomous driving videos, he looked the most relaxed we’ve ever seen him in the self-driving car, chatting and explaining the technology as the car drove itself. In previous outings, he looked far more preoccupied on the car’s performance, suggesting Nissan’s Autonomous Drive technology has made some evolutionary leaps since last we saw it.

“I hope this event will play a large role in promoting the technology all over Japan,” Governor Kuroiwa said of the special event. “This region has been designated by the government as Robot Town Sagami for its deregulated development status. I like to think that this Autonomous Drive System is also like a robotic system.”

“As we continue to test Autonomous Drive in the field, I look forward to seeing newer versions of the technology,” he continued.

With Nissan’s Autonomous Drive technology progressing leaps and bounds — happily tackling dry and wet conditions on its route — the future of self-driving cars seems closer than ever before.

But would you trust a self-driving car to take you on your daily commute, or do you prefer to be the one in control? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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