There's been a lot of talk lately about cars that drive themselves. It doesn't sound so great to us; we actually like to drive. Still, there are certain situations where a self-driving car may reduce stress and accidents.

Imagine a partial self-driving grid somewhere such as downtown San Francisco or New York City. If you live in the suburbs, you could drive yourself most of the way. Once you get downtown, the automated drive feature would take over and escort you to work or to an overpriced parking space.

Soon a Reality?

Nissan says a self-driving car may be here sooner than you think.

The company showed us exactly how it could work on a closed course at the retired El Toro Marine airbase in Orange County, Calif.

Nissan converted an all-electric Leaf into an autonomous-drive vehicle.

Electric cars already have many electric drive components, so they're ideal for self-driving experiments. When an electric switch or motor already controls the accelerator, brakes and steering, creating a self-driving car is as easy as remotely controlling those switches and motors.

Still Needs Human Help

But how does the car "think" and react to its environment? Nissan uses lots of computing power and externally mounted cameras.

The Autonomous Drive Leaf reads painted lines on the ground to keep it going in the right direction. It also uses externally mounted cameras to detect other vehicles and objects.

But this self-driving Nissan Leaf needs a little human help. Before it can drive itself, the Autonomous Drive Leaf needs to be driven around a set course first so it can "learn" the route. Then, if something deviates from the learned route, the car can respond.

Nissan recently showed off an electric taxi based on the NV200 cargo van. Hey, Nissan, we have an idea: driver-less taxi cabs. Just sayin'.

Nissan's not promising anything, but company reps say something like the self-driving Leaf could be a reality as soon as 2020.

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Brian Moody heads up the editorial team. He has been an automotive writer and presenter for 15 years. Prior to that, Moody spent several years working in local television news and worked at a few used car dealerships in Sacramento, California. His first car was a 1964 Buick Skylark, but today he has a strange fascination with 1990s era GM luxury cars - don’t ask. Brian lives near Atlanta with his wife and two kids.

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