The latest technology in the world of self-driving cars is inching closer to becoming a reality on our roads following a recent announcement from Nissan. The company will start testing its new fleet of ‘robotaxis’ on roads in March of next year according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. From early spring, two of Nissan’s new ‘Leaf’ cars, equipped with cameras and an array of self-driving sensors, will start to be a regular fixture on the streets around Nissan’s Tokyo HQ.
During the first stage of testing the Leafs will still have a human ‘safety driver’ in the vehicle to offset any risk of early teething problems with Nissan’s latest technology. The world is expected to see the end result of testing in the form of a driverless fleet of Nissan taxis called ‘Easy Ride’ servicing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The driverless technology that Nissan’s robotaxi fleet will use is being developed in partnership with Nikkei 225-listed tech company DeNa Co. The initial period of testing will allow members of the public to participate. Early adopters keen to sample some of the latest technology in the world will be able to summon one of the cars from a handful of pick-up points and travel to one of several designated drop-off locations. The initial limits on pick up and drop off locations means the cars will travel a set number of routes. This will reduce the potential variables the driverless technology has to cope with while any kinks in the system are ironed out.
Despite the fact that precautions are being taken by having a safety driver present during the first testing phase and sticking to a limited number of well-travelled routes, Nissan and DeNa Co., are confident their technology is close to ready. Several other big international auto makers are also in the race to be among the first to launch genuinely driverless vehicles. In the U.S., Waymo, the company that started out as Google’s self-driving cars project, has been ferrying passengers around Phoenix in self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans since early this year.
Nissan’s fleet will not only be able to take clients to a destination they know they want to go to. Technology included in the robotaxis’ armoury will also mean the driverless cabs will be able to give tourists less familiar with Tokyo a helping hand. If the passenger tells the car what they would like to do, instead of giving an exact drop-off location, the robotaxi will suggest destinations and provide some background information.