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The Race for the Robot Car


Nissan Promises Affordable Autonomous Cars to Consumers by 2020.

By: Megan Gartrell

Picture the early morning hassle of the commute to work: cars packed together like cattle, sweat dripping down your collar, the sound of honking everywhere and all before your first coffee break. But what if you were stretched out in your driver’s seat, hands folded, listening to soothing classical music, or making some last minute touches on that presentation while your car drives itself? This may sound like something out of a sci-fi film, but according to the Japanese-owned car company Nissan that dream may become a reality as early as 2020.

In the race to produce the first so-called “robot car,” Nissan stepped up its game this week, making some bold statements about their ability to cross the finish line first. Competing against car company giants such as General Motors, BMW, Lexus, and Audi, Chief executive Carlos Ghosn said in a statement, “In 2007, I pledged that by 2010 Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle. 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.”

[pullquote]In the race to produce the first so-called “robot car,” Nissan stepped up its game this week, making some bold statements about their ability to cross the finish line first.[/pullquote]

Nissan plans to offer multiple commercially viable vehicles that are capable of autonomous operation without driver input. The company has been putting in years of research time with the help of top universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Oxford, Carnegie Melon and the University of Tokyo.

Consumers have already begun to see the results of this research. Autonomous Drive, a combination of new technologies developed from Nissan’s existing Safety Shield technology, can currently be found in the Nissan Leaf. This system uses scanners and the Around-View Monitoring system to analyze the road and environment, while artificial intelligence systems help navigate and operate in a changing environment.

Many believe autonomous technology stands to make roads safer, reducing accidents and auto fatality rates. Whether consumers have realized it or not, this technology has slowly been making it’s way into vehicles for years now. Everything from adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance, automatic breaking to the hot selling feature of “hands free” parking.

[pullquote]Whether consumers have realized it or not, this technology has slowly been making it’s way into vehicles for years now. Everything from adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance, automatic breaking to the hot selling feature of “hands free” parking. [/pullquote]

On the flip side, others believe it could cause drivers to become complacent and less aware of the road, and questions still remain as to who would be found responsible if an autonomous car were to commit a traffic violation.

Until now the only company to have driver-less cars on the road has been Google Inc. Google launched an autonomous car program in 2010 and is currently testing several different versions. However, there have been numerous run-ins with authorities for the use of the technology in public, with currently only three U.S. states having passed laws permitting the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads: Nevada, Florida and California. This would be just one of the roadblocks for the emerging technology.

In addition, like most new technology the price is usually well above what the average consumer can spend. During a media event in Irvine California, Nissan representatives said the self-driving vehicles will be sold at “realistic prices for consumers,” but critics note that a realistic price for some may still be out of reach for others.

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