• Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
Drive our cars. No, wait, don't drive our cars. Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn is delivering a message about autonomous driving that's less mixed than it sounds on the surface.

As part of his public dialogue from LinkedIn's "Influencer" series, Ghosn said in a company announcement that "hands-free" driving is part of the Japanese automaker's "near-term technology." In fact, cars that can self-drive in heavy, stop-and-go traffic, may be ready for the market by late 2016. That should please texters everywhere. 2018 may be the year cars with lane-changing, hazard-avoiding capabilities will see the light of day, while by 2020, Nissan may feature a "complete package" of autonomous-driving features, Ghosn writes. As for the proverbial driver-less car? That's at least a decade out but ultimately likely, according to Ghosn.

Nissan said early last year that some autonomous versions of its vehicles may be available in the US by the end of the decade, and that it was in talks with California regulators about the idea of self-driving cars on the state's roads. Nissan has worked with institutions such as MIT, Stanford and Oxford at developing autonomous-drive concepts, and has tested self-driving versions of the Leaf electric vehicles in Japan. Check out excerpts of the Ghosn "interview" below.
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The truth about Autonomous Drive cars, by Carlos Ghosn

The following is the latest from Carlos Ghosn's LinkedIn Influencer series. Read all of Mr. Ghosn's LinkedIn Influencer articles here.

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about "Autonomous Drive" technology and a potential future of driverless cars.

No doubt, Autonomous Drive technology will change how we approach driving. I expect it to result a significant transformation in transportation.

But all the talk has left many drivers a bit confused. After years of promoting "eyes on the road, hands on the wheel," the auto industry is now talking about reading your email or a book while you drive – and the prospect of maybe not even needing a driver.

So it's a good time to address the questions that arise whenever this subject comes up:

Q: What is Autonomous Drive?

A: Autonomous Drive combines the technology of robotics, artificial intelligence, sensors and car-to-car connectivity. It is a range of technologies that will be added to our cars over the next several years.

The concept already exists in some of the technology in today's cars: Anti-lock brakes, active cruise control, blind-spot warning or parking assist are examples of technologies that operate autonomously, most without the driver even thinking about them.

Q: When will we start to see this technology?

A: We're looking at taking the existing technology to the next level, where the driver can cede some control – essentially hands-free driving – while continuing to monitor the car's operation. Much of this is near-term technology, but it will come in waves, a feature at a time.

At Nissan and Renault, we have pledged by 2020 to have a complete package of Autonomous Drive technologies on multiple models. Starting from late next year, we plan to offer what internally we are calling the "Traffic Jam Pilot," a feature that allows the car to drive autonomously and safely in heavy, stop-and-go traffic. This eventually will be offered across a wide range of our Nissan, Infiniti and Renault vehicles.

In 2018, we'll introduce technology that allows a car to autonomously negotiate hazards and change lanes. And by 2020, we plan to introduce vehicles that can navigate without driver intervention in nearly all situations, including complex city driving.

Q: When will we see the driverless car?

A: Eventually, a more elaborate combination of these technologies will lead us to the driverless car – one that can operate fully autonomously, even with nobody in it. So you conceivably could send it to pick up your children from school, or to take an ill parent to the doctor's office.

But that is much further into the future – at least a decade away. In fact, I expect the technology will be perfected well before it hits the street, because there are a host of regulatory, legal and security issues that must be resolved first.

Q: I love driving. Why would I ever want to give up any control over my car?

A: I love driving, too! As we develop our Autonomous Drive technologies, our focus is on eliminating the drudgery of driving, not the joy of driving.

The fact is most drivers do not enjoy commuting in grindingly slow, stop-and-go traffic. It's the same thing with long trips along monotonously straight expressways.

With our cars, the driver will decide whether to use the technology when it's appropriate. It will be optional. Nothing will stop you from being in full control as you enjoy driving the twisty turns of California's Pacific Coast Highway or the beautiful mountain passes in the Alps.

Our goal is to enhance the driving experience, not detract from it. We want to build cars that give drivers more freedom, more options and more control, but improve the driver's ability to avoid an accident.

Q: So is improved safety the main advantage?

A: Yes. At the Renault-Nissan Alliance, one of our internal mantras is "Zero Emissions, Zero Fatalities." We have made tremendous progress with electric vehicles. Autonomous Drive technology is a big step toward achieving the "zero fatalities" part.

Over time, this technology holds the promise of virtually eliminating avoidable crashes. Cars have become much safer over the past 50 years. But in the United States alone, there are still about 6 million crashes annually. And that exacts a huge cost to those affected and on everybody's insurance rates – a loss in total of about $160 billion a year just in the U.S.

Autonomous Drive will mean far fewer crashes. The car will be able to react faster than you can, just as anti-lock brakes can bring a car to a safe stop faster and prevent it from going into a slide much better than any human.

Q: Are there other benefits?

A: Convenience is one. This technology will allow you to make your commuting time more productive and less stressful. Consider this: Europeans on average spend 300 hours a year in their car; Americans on average spend 750 hours a year inside their car – that's more than two hours a day. I think most people would rather use that time to check their emails, make a phone call, read an article or listen to a podcast and relax.

Another big benefit is improved mobility for the elderly. It will allow those of us getting older to drive longer. And if you look out further into the future of driverless cars, it will offer the elderly the ability to get around even after they can no longer drive by themselves.

Q: Are you working with other companies on this technology?

A: Yes, no one company has the ability to do this alone. For example, in January we announced a partnership with NASA through Nissan's Silicon Valley Research Center in California to work on many aspects of this technology, including remote controls. This is in addition to several universities that we're collaborating with, including Stanford, MIT, Oxford and the University of Tokyo.

Q: It sounds like the auto industry has become a high-tech industry.

A: Indeed, it has. As I travel around the world, I try to meet every few months with university students. And I've been telling them that I really can't remember a more exciting time to be in the auto industry, due to the potential of all this new technology.

This really is going to result in a big change in how we approach mobility. It will make our cars smarter, it will expand our ability to get around as we grow older, and above all, it will make driving far safer.


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