Back in 2013, Mike reported that Nissan was planning to have fully autonomous, commercially-available vehicles by 2020. It seems that plan is still on track, at least if the latest episode of Fully Charged is to be believed.
In fact, there are fully autonomous Nissan Leafs already being tested on our roads—and Robert Llewellyn gets to ride in one. Using twelve different cameras currently mounted externally on the roof of the car, as well as 4 different lidar units, this Leaf appears to be more than adept at handling the congested roads of urban Britain. Heck, it even manages to handle a British roundabout or two—a feat which had me failing two driving tests before I finally got it right! It's also good to hear that Nissan is emphasizing pedestrian and cyclist safety, although exactly what autonomous vehicles mean for walkable and bikable cities remains to be seen.
Robert certainly seems impressed and at ease in the vehicle, and Tetsuya Iijima—Nissan's Head of Autonomous Drive Development—does a great job of showing off what the car can do. What's next, he says, is to better integrate the various cameras and sensors into the actual body of the vehicle (potentially putting cameras in roof pillars, for example), and also finding ways to shrink the computing hardware needed to make the system work.
Once that type of integration is done, and once the cars are reliable enough not to need a driver to watch over them, then presumably automotive designers can start getting more creative about how they use the interior space. Hopefully they will also turn their minds to new models for ownership and access, not to mention finding ways to minimize our overall transportation footprint and prioritize healthy cities.
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