Nissan announced that it will sell autonomous vehicles to the general public by 2020. To affirm its commitment to self-driving cars, the company showed off a test fleet of Nissan Leaf electric cars that can pilot themselves around a test course, and said it will build a special testing facility in Japan for autonomous cars.
Nissan sees self-driving cars as the next step forward in using technology to help avoid car accidents and injuries. The autonomous function builds on existing car features like cameras, automatic braking, and lane-departure warning.
"You've got basically all the fundamental technology, and now what you add on top is the brain," said Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer. "Obviously autonomous driving is really about our goal of zero fatalities."
Nissan says that of the six million reported car crashes that occur in the U.S. each year, about 93 percent can be attributed to human error. Allowing cars to drive themselves could reduce that number. Nissan also sees autonomous cars providing more mobility options for the elderly.
The Nissan Leaf test cars use laser scanners, cameras, and navigation data to measure the world around them and drive accordingly. Although the Leaf EV was used for the demonstration laps seen in the video below, Nissan promises it will add autonomous functionality to several other cars in its portfolio. The company confidently promises it will have "multiple, commercially-viable" self-driving cars ready by 2020.
Nissan is currently building a test facility in Japan with real roads and buildings -- not simply cardboard mock-ups -- where it will test autonomous driving technologies over the coming years. The automaker has partnered with nearly two-dozen universities on the research, including University of Oxford, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Tokyo.
Many major automakers are currently pursuing the idea of autonomous or semi-autonomous cars. Audi and Volvo have demonstrated cars that can park themselves automatically, supplier Continental is testing a self-driving car, and companies ranging from Google to Lexus have tested cars that can drive themselves in certain circumstances. As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has started establishing guidelines for automakers planning to test self-driving cars on public roads.