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The Future of Self-Driving Cars, According to Nissan

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author photo by Brian Moody December 2016

Do you want a self-driving car? The technology to make that happen is closer than you might expect. Many of today's new cars already have features that could allow the car to drive itself, but these are intentionally limited. To get an idea of what many of the world's largest automakers are thinking in terms of self-driving cars, we've asked a few of them for their perspective on the future of autonomous vehicle and what that might mean for the average consumer. Here's Nissan's take, according to Maarten Sierhuis, director of Nissan Research Center in Silicon Valley.

Q: Lately, there's a lot of talk about autonomous and self-driving cars. Given that Nissans are known for a more engaging driving experience, have Nissan buyers in the U.S. expressed an interest in a car that drives itself? For example, can Nissan envision a self-driving Z or Maxima? It seems like the whole point of cars like these is to drive them yourself.

A: It seems many people share this fear, but the concept of driving pleasure is, as before, our core value. The autonomous drive we seek is something that can be used as an option in a safe and smooth fashion. For example, when the driver experiences fatigue while driving in heavy traffic or when he or she wishes to do something else besides driving, autonomous drive is a function that offers the driver the option to enjoy the safe, stress-free, free-time benefits of autonomous drive while maintaining the fun of manual driving.

Q: At Nissan's 360 event a while back, Nissan said a self-driving car based on the Leaf EV would be ready by 2020. Is that still true?

A: While we can't get into specifics just yet, I can say that across the Alliance, we will launch more than 10 models by 2020 with significant autonomous driving functionalities for the U.S., Japan, Europe and China.

(Editor's Note: The Renault-Nissan Alliance -- sometimes just called "the Alliance," as above -- was formed in 1999. By 2013, the Alliance had sold more than 8 million vehicles, meaning one in 10 new cars sold worldwide in 2013 was a Renault-Nissan Alliance vehicle. In 2015, the Alliance sold 8.5 million vehicles worldwide and now has strategic collaborations with other automakers, including Germany's Daimler AG, China's Dongfeng Motor and Japan's Mitsubishi Motors.)

Q: When can American buyers expect to see ProPILOT available on new Nissan vehicles in the U.S.?

A: ProPILOT is currently only available on the Nissan Serena in Japan, but we have not yet announced timing for the U.S. market.

Q: In Nissan's view, what's the biggest barrier to privately owned self-driving cars with little or no human interaction needed?

A: There are still a lot of technological advancements that need to be made to enable safe driverless capability (autonomous vehicles without a human driver). The capability of perception systems needs to increase, which means that sensor capabilities need to increase and cost of sensors needs to come down in order to enable driverless vehicles. Also the creation and updating of high-definition maps that are used by the autonomous vehicles need to become commonplace when we drive in the urban environments (off-highway). Given that we will not have complete driverless vehicles before 2020 and possibly not until well after 2020, one of the biggest barriers is that we still need to ensure the human driver is always "in the loop." This means that we need to address all of the human-machine interaction issues in order to provide safety in all circumstances.

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