Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] might be the first automaker to bring semi-autonomous drive capabilities to electric cars, but as we detailed on Friday, Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co. is eager to be the first to bring fully autonomous driving capabilities to the world of affordable mass-market vehicles.
Come next year, it will begin to roll out technology that it says will bring that goal closer to reality, with the Japanese market debut of a technology it calls Piloted Drive 1.0.
As Automotive News (subscription required) details, Nissan made the announcement at the end of last week, previewing its latest self-driving Nissan LEAF prototype prior to the opening of the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show this week.
To demonstrate its prowess in the autonomous drive field, Nissan will send journalists across Tokyo later this week in a fleet of autonomous LEAFs, all of which are kitted out with the latest incarnation of Nissan’s autonomous vehicle hardware and software. The demonstration will take place during the rush-hour, the toughest time to be on the city’s streets.
The cars — fitted with what Nissan is calling its Nissan Intelligent Driving prototype software — feature a host of different sensors designed to give the car’s autonomous driving software complete awareness of its surroundings. Unlike previous autonomous prototypes however, many of the 240 sensors used on the current prototype vehicle are hidden from view.
Other sensors — like the five radar sensors, twelve optical cameras, four laser scanners and some of the ultrasonic sensors — can be seen if you look closely enough. But glance at this fully-autonomous LEAF and, save for the proud decals on the side announcing its autonomous driving capabilities and the special autonomous vehicle license plate required under Japanese law, you’d have a tough time recognising it as a self-driving car.
This latest incarnation of the autonomous LEAF has enabled Nissan to test and perfect its Piloted Drive 1.0 software, a software which Nissan says will take over from a human driver in heavy highway traffic — one of the most likely times to have a human-error accident.
Using a miniature high-specification laser scanner, Nissan says Intelligent Driving prototypes can not only keep a safe distance from the car in front, but also weave through tight spaces without risking a collision. Meanwhile an eight-way, 360-degree camera system gives the vehicle precise position through intersections and curves.
Like the Tesla Model S, Nissan’s prototype autonomous LEAFs can be driven in manual mode, assisting the driver with a head-up display to give them as much information about their surroundings while in manual mode. When in autonomous drive mode, the head-up display is supplemented by a central cluster displaying a bird’s eye view of the car and its surroundings, a feature which we’re sure some will love and others will loathe.
Talking at the revealing of Nissan latest Intelligent Driving prototype, Tetsuya Iijima, Nissan’s general manager of Advanced Driver Assist Systems Strategy, said that Nissan’s goal is to make “occupants feel as though they were in the hands of a skilled driver,” adding that the technology is just about ready for mass-market adoption.
That roll-out will happen next year, when Nissan will roll out Piloted Drive 1.0 hardware and software as an option on new Japanese-market LEAFs. Initially, autonomous drive features will be limited to an automatic parking system and traffic-jam pilot, but Nissan says by the end of 2018 its vehicles will also include automatic lane-changing functionality.
By the end of the decade, it says it will have perfected the technology needed to allow its cars to negotiate busy city intersections without requiring any driver input.
Unlike Tesla, which has happily pushed a so-called ‘public beta’ of its autopilot autonomous drive software to thousands of hardware-equipped Model S and Model X electric cars, Nissan’s approach to autonomous driving seems far more cautious. Sources close to the automaker suggest that Nissan’s software is — as with other automakers looking into autonomous drive software — as good as any other being used and developed today. But, it seems, Nissan is keen to make sure every eventuality is covered before its software hits the roads.
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