Cleantech Market Intelligence
Nissan Joins the AV Club
As media coverage of autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles continues to grow, Nissan is the latest to announce that it will be all set to join in when the playing field is ready. The company says that it will have products ready for the market by 2020, without actually promising that they will be on sale. The timing of this launch would match the introduction of the technology that we projected in the latest Navigant Research report on autonomous vehicles.
Nissan has been working on the technology for years already, and its latest investment will create a dedicated proving ground near its R&D headquarters in Japan. Notably, in February 2013, the company opened an advanced technology center in California with its French Alliance partner, Renault, with a focus on autonomous and connected vehicles and the development of appropriate human-machine interface technology. Proximity to research facilities run by Bosch and Google undoubtedly played a part in the choice of location.
Nissan has been active in self-driving vehicles before. In October 2012, the company provided a demonstration of its NSC-2015 concept vehicle. The car, a heavily modified LEAF, could drive and park itself, as well as be controlled by a smartphone application. As evidenced by the vehicle name, Nissan hopes to have some of this technology available commercially by 2015.
At the end of 2012, the Elgrand multipurpose vehicle (MPV), which is available in the Japanese market only, became the first Nissan vehicle to feature its Emergency Assist function. This technology is aimed at reducing acceleration accidents in parking lots and other spaces where cars could collide with walls if a driver mistakenly depressed the accelerator instead of the brake pedal. Using the four cameras of the Around View Monitor together with ultrasonic sensors, the system detects if the car is currently in a parking space and if there are obstacles in the direction the vehicle is traveling. The function automatically controls acceleration if necessary and applies the brakes before a collision can occur.
Nissan’s latest announcement acknowledges that, while the technology is nearly ready for production, testing is going to take a few years. The Japanese automaker will be working with a broad range of research organizations to make sure that the systems are safe and affordable. It also briefly outlines the benefits that will come from safer roads and more productive commuting. However, what it doesn’t say is that regulatory changes are needed before any OEMs will be allowed to offer such vehicles to the general public in most countries. Some legislatures are now working on temporary law changes to permit on-road testing by auto manufacturers and suppliers, but there will have to be convincing demonstrations that autonomous vehicles are safe for public use before laws are changed to allow their sale. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will also be looking for clarification of liability issues. Clearly, though, the world’s biggest automakers are moving forward slowly but steadily in anticipation of those changes.