IRVINE, Calif. -- Nissan said Tuesday that it will have multiple "commercially viable" self-driving vehicles ready for sale by 2020. It becomes the first major automaker to make such a pledge.
It says it is working with major universities including MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tokyo on the technology. Work also is underway on a special-purpose test track in Japan that Nissan says features "real townscapes."
And in Irvine, Calif.,today it is showed off for the first time a specially outfitted electric Nissan Leaf that can drive itself. The Leaf is equipped with laser scanners, all-around video monitors, as well as advanced artificial intelligence and actuators.
Nissan said its goals for autonomous driving cars are "realistic prices for consumers," and availability of self-driving technology across its model range "within two vehicle generations."
"In 2007 I pledged that by 2010, Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle," said Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn in a statement. "Today, the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric vehicle in history. Now I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it."
Other automakers have also indicated they are working on similar. Audi and Toyota, for instance, showed cars with self-driving features at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. They could be next to set a date for marketing the technology. But the best-known autonomous vehicles so far are not from a car company but from Google, which has pioneered testing of self-driving cars in Nevada in the past couple of years.
Nissan's autonomous driving technology is an extension of what it calls "Safety Shield," its various systems that monitor a 360-degree view around a vehicle, gives warnings to the driver and takes action if the driver does has not react.
The most advanced application to date is with the new 2014 Q50 sedan from Nissan luxury division Infiniti. It makes first use of advanced technology that allows it to essentially drive itself on a highway. The Q50 has a system that keeps the vehicle driving in its lane on freeways. Coupled with an adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from other cars and brakes if the car ahead -- or the car ahead of that one -- slows, it allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel.
BY Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY