LAS VEGAS – Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announces the automaker has used NASA technology to develop what it calls a seamless autonomous mobility (SAM) system to respond to unpredictable situations that may tie up self-driving cars on the roads of the future.
“With SAM, the autonomous vehicle becomes smart enough to know when it should not attempt to negotiate the problem by itself,” Nissan says in a statement at 2017 CES here.
An example of how SAM would work is if an automated vehicle approaches an accident zone with a police officer giving hand gestures. What to do is worked out by SAM via a request sent to mobility managers at a command center. The managers would use vehicle images and sensor data from the car to safely navigate the scenario.
In the above example, the mobility manager “paints a virtual lane for the vehicle to drive itself through. When the policemen wave the vehicle past, the manager releases the car to continue on by itself along the designated route,” Nissan says. After it clears the accident zone, the car resumes full autonomous mode.
The mobility manager’s solution is shared with other autonomous vehicles, which communicate with SAM.
NASA’s VERVE (Visual Environment for Remote Virtual Exploration) software is the basis of SAM. It was used to visualize and supervise interplanetary autonomous robots to navigate obstacles.
Nissan sees SAM benefiting not only privately owned vehicles, but also commercial fleets of autonomous delivery vehicles and taxis.
Before Ghosn’s speech, Nissan presents a variety of scenarios to address the challenges current-gen automated technologies face.
“We as humans…can make judgments about how to take action and move forward. How can we teach that to cars?” Melissa Cefkin, principal researcher and design anthropologist at Nissan’s research center lab in Silicon Valley, tells media. The scenarios Cefkin lists focus on busy intersections and how automated cars will need to address and signal non-automated vehicles and pedestrians.
To that end, Nissan’s IDS concept car from the 2015 Tokyo auto show has a color spectrum “intention indicator,” that when solid blue signals autonomous mode.
Meanwhile, Ghosn announces the next-generation Nissan Leaf will have the automaker’s new ProPilot technology, making possible autonomous driving on single-lane highways. He says 10 models with ProPilot will be launched by Nissan and alliance partner Renault by 2020.
“When activated, it helps to keep the car centered by reading lane markers, measuring the distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you, and providing steering assistance,” Nissan says of the ProPilot technology used by the Serena van in Japan. “Sixty percent of customers who have purchased this model, which is one of the leaders in the segment, have already chosen this option in Japan.”
Nissan will bring this technology to other models, including the Qashqai in Europe, in fiscal 2017.
Besides that tidbit of information, details of the next Leaf are scant, with Ghosn not addressing rumors of a 200-mile (320-km) range for the all-electric car.
Takao Asami, senior vice president-Research and Advanced Engineering for Nissan, tells another group of media here the automaker foresees EVs with 300 and 400 miles (480 and 640 km) of range; it’s just a question of how much cost the consumer is willing to bear.
He also notes the automaker is exploring successors to lithium-ion battery technology, saying Nissan is studying energy-dense zinc-air or aluminum-air battery technology, as well as solid-state Li-ions which have reduced fire risks.
Meanwhile, Ghosn announces Nissan and Japanese Internet company DeNA “will begin tests aimed at developing driverless vehicles for commercial services.” The first test phase, for which the Renault-Nissan Alliance will provide prototype EVs, should start this year in designated areas of Japan. By 2020, the two companies want to test commercial driverless technology for Tokyo-area mobility services.