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Nissan extends roadmap towards fully automated vehicles - more intelligence required

In a speech this month to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's outlined his company's roadmap towards what he calls Autonomous Drive vehicles, which Nissan aims to bring to market by 2020.

However, by outlining what he considers acheivable the message was to dampen expectation for what he described as “Self-driving cars” - that would not require human intervention to operate. Although Nissan has demonstrated such technologies in controlled tests fully robotic cars, he said “remain a long-way from commercial reality” and “are suitable only for tightly-controlled road-environments, at slow speeds, and face a regulatory minefield.”


Having predicted last year that Nissan will be ready with revolutionary commercially-viable Autonomous Drive in multiple vehicles by the year 2020 in the speech Ghosn said he “is focused on autonomous drive technologies that we know will work, and can be introduced over the next 4 to 5 years.”


Timetable toward Autonomous Drive system

In the speech Ghosn outlined the compnay's timeline to 2020 for the introduction toward its Autonomous Drive system.


In 2016 autonomous driving on congested highways and parking

Firstly, by the end of 2016, Nissan intends to make available the next two technologies under what it called its autonomous-drive strategy.

“We are bringing to market a traffic-jam pilot, in which cars will have the capability to drive autonomously – and safely – on congested highways. In the same timeframe, we will make fully-automated parking systems available across a wide range of vehicles.”


In 2018 lane changing and hazard avoidance

“This will be followed in 2018 by the introduction of multiple-lane controls, allowing cars to autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes. And before the end of the decade, we will introduce intersection-autonomy, enabling vehicles to negotiate city cross-roads without driver intervention.”


A change in mindset might be required

Despite limiting himself to what he forsees as commercially realistic in the near future, Ghosn hinted that as Nissan offer more capability for assuming management from drivers that full automation may, by then be a lot closer to achievable - by saying the developments he outlines were “a sign of things to come”.

Indeed the difference could be a change in mindset from an industry traditionally considered more interested in metal bashing than bash-script.

The fully robotic car, according to Maarten Sierhuis, director of Nissan’s Silicon Valley research centre in Sunnyvale, California, will require less focus on hardware and more on software development.

Making cars that are “deliberative”, he said in an interview, in assessing road conditions, rather than just reactive, requires artificial intelligence, Maarten Sierhuis.

Speaking at a the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, Sierhuis said automakers need to design self-driving cars that can not only understand how humans drive, but also mimic it. Only then, he says, will autonomous cars be able to coexist with other road users.

“What the auto industry has to come to is a shift from thinking about the car as a physical, mechanical system,” Sierhuis explained. “Autonomy, autonomous systems, is about understanding how humans do that, and then replicating it with software.”

That, says the former NASA software engineer, means more than just passive safety technologies like Lane Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Emergency Brake Assist.

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