Last month, Nissan Motor Company set the ambitious goal of bringing autonomous vehicles to the market by 2020. With Tokyo winning the 2020 Olympic bid, even more eyes will be focused on the Japanese automaker to follow through with that promise.
A Japanese government-issued license for Nissan’s Advanced Driver Assistance System-equipped wundercar – complete with number plates that read “20-20” – will allow it to be tested on the nation’s public roads. Government approval provides a crucial step in the right direction for Nissan’s self-driving cars.
“This is an ordinary license plate for an extraordinary vehicle,” said Nissan president and CEO Carlos Ghosn, following the license approval. “Road testing of the underlying technologies is critical to maintaining our leadership position and we are grateful to the Government of Japan for its support.”
The experimental prototype – based on Nissan's all-electric Leaf hatchback – features six autonomous-driving abilities that allowed it to pass Japan’s licensing requirements. Two of those functions – automatic lane-centering and adaptive cruise control – are already available on some of Nissan’s Infinity-branded luxury cars. Four other features that include automatic freeway exiting, automatic lane changing, being able to overtake slow or stopped vehicles, and stopping at red lights and stop signs without a driver’s assistance will be tested in real situations on Japanese roads.
Nissan faces bold competition from other automakers that are seeking to market self-driving cars in the near future. Earlier this month, a self-piloting Mercedes-Benz S500 embarked on a 100 km public road test in Germany – tacking country and city roads while navigating roundabouts, traffic lights, and pedestrian crosswalks. Mercedes-Benz has teamed up with Nokia to develop their own prototype, and they have also set 2020 as their target deadline for producing a consumer-friendly autonomous vehicle.
Nissan and Mercedes-Benz may end up late to the game if billionaire Elon Musk can have his way. The Tesla Motors CEO said that his company will build a self-driving car within the next three years.
Perhaps a bit of friendly competition will make this emerging technology smarter, safer and available sooner.
A video of Nissan’s self-driving Leaf prototype can be seen here.