Nissan plans to make robot cars; human ‘mobility managers’ will intervene when needed

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Nissan is the latest in a now long line of automobile companies to go public with plans — sketchy as they may be — for autonomous cars.

The Japanese company will begin testing driverless cars in Japan and put them into commercial operation by 2020, according to Carlos Ghosn, who spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Thursday.

Ghosn leads three companies. He is chairman and chief executive of Nissan, chairman and CEO of Renault and chairman of Mitsubushi.


The only substantial difference between Nissan’s announced plans and those of Ford, FCA, General Motors, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and several other companies is a plan to put “humans in the loop” based on technology developed at NASA.

The director of the Nissan Research Center in Silicon Valley, Maarten Sierhuis, said human “mobility managers” will intervene if an autonomous car encounters a situation it can’t handle, like having to cross a double yellow line when a lane is blocked.

He said the system is based in part on NASA’s Mars Rover robot, which was directed by humans on Earth when it encountered obstacles. Nissan is working with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., to develop the automotive version.

“One of the biggest hurdles to driverless vehicles is customer acceptance,” Sierhuis said. The system will provide “peace of mind.”

The system is still in the research phase but he said it will be “on the roads sooner than you think.”


Twitter: @russ1mitchell