At the start of the year, we were among a group of select journalists given access to Renault-Nissan’s Silicon Valley Research Center, where we learned about the future of the alliance’s autonomous vehicle programs, electric drive aspirations and connected drive programs.
We even had a chance to ride in the back of one of Nissan’s $300,000 prototype autonomous Nissan LEAFs, an experience we described as being “extremely impressive” if, as Nissan reiterated, five years from mass-market full autonomy.
But the day after we left the Renault-Nissan Silicon Valley Research Center, an autonomous Nissan LEAF self-driving prototype being operated and tested by Californian startup Cruise Automation Inc. — which we should reiterate has nothing to do with Renault-Nissan or its autonomous drive program — was involved in a collision with a parked Toyota Prius hybrid in downtown San Francisco.
As the accident report submitted to the California Department of Motor vehicles by Cruise (via CIO) under California statute details, the Nissan LEAF was travelling along 7th Street in the Market district of San Francisco when it incorrectly placed itself in the lane ahead of the intersection with Bryant Street.
“A Cruise Nissan Leaf autonomous vehicle (“Cruise AV”) was in autonomous mode travelling north at approximately 20 miles per hour in the right lane of 7th Street,” the official report reads. “The vehicle began moving within its lane to the left, and then began correcting to the right, at which point the driver decided to take over manual control. After taking over manual control, the operator did not change the path of the vehicle and collided with an unoccupied Toyota Prius that was parallel parked on 7th Street approximately 20 feet before the intersection with Bryant Street,” it continues.
“The Prius sustained minor visible damage to the front left quarter panel area. The Cruise AV sustained minor visible damage to the front right quarter panel area. There were no injures,” it concluded.
What isn’t clear from the report is the amount of time the driver had to respond to the incident, although given the reported speed we’re guessing the collision was caused more by human error than autonomous vehicle programming — even if the chain of events which led to the collision started with incorrect positioning from the on-board diagnostics.
Unlike Nissan’s own in-house program, which seeks to develop fully-functional, integrated autonomous drive capabilities for future Nissan vehicles, Cruise is a startup that is attempting to build an aftermarket autonomous drive module that it hopes will one day work with a variety of different cars. Consisting of a sensor pod which mounts on the roof of a production car, a specially-designed autonomous drive computer located in the trunk, and the necessary control actuators that allow the computer to control the car’s steering, accelerator and brakes.
Back in 2014, Cruise announced the Cruise RP-1, a limited-production $10,000 aftermarket add on designed to bring semi-autonomous vehicle capabilities to the Audi A4 and Audi S4. In addition to providing lane-keeping assistance, the system promised adaptive cruise control and advanced collision avoidance, as well as capabilities to track cars around it and make sure that the car was correctly positioned at all times.
Talking to TechCrunch back in June 2014, Cruise founder Kyle Vogt — former founder of Justin.tv, Socialcam and Twitch — admitted that the high price of the RP-1 wouldn’t be for everyone, but noted that given time, he believed Cruise’s aftermarket systems would come down in price.
“We realize this price isn’t for everyone,” he said. “The initial system has been expensive to develop.”
Despite the high price, Cruise has reportedly filled its pre-order list for the first Cruise automation units. We also note however, that those units were due to be delivered in 2015 — and it’s not clear if those units have been shipped to customers yet.
What’s also worth noting here is that the car being tested at the time of the accident was a Nissan LEAF — not the Audi A4 and S4 for which the original RP-1 was designed for. This indicates that the fledgling startup is working on a new product with wider compatibility with other cars on the roads today, but as of yet the company has made no official statement to that effect.
At the time of writing, Cruise has not released a public statement concerning the collision.
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