11/3/2015 | 1 MINUTE READ

Nissan Focuses on Software Improvements for Self-Driving Cars

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Nissan Motor Co. has the sensors, cameras, radar and other hardware components ready for autonomous vehicles, company officials tell Automotive News.

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Nissan Motor Co. has the sensors, cameras, radar and other hardware components ready for autonomous vehicles, company officials tell Automotive News. But they say more work is needed to improve software algorithms to ensure the technologies can handle all the unexpected, unusual and "confusing" driving situations self-driving vehicles may encounter.

This includes bicyclists not obeying traffic rules and policemen on the street motioning for a vehicle to stop or to pull over, notes Tetsuya Iijima, who heads Nissan's new engineering unit dedicated to developing autonomous vehicle systems. The 100-person team is working with other Nissan engineers and product development specialists to test, refine and coordinate the various systems to ensure they are safe and reliable in all driving situations and ready for production by 2020, AN says.

Nissan and several other carmakers, including Japanese rivals Toyota and Mitsubishi, have set 2020 as a goal for having advanced autonomous vehicle technologies ready for production. The target coincides with the Tokyo Summer Olympics, where such vehicles could be showcased to a global audience. Nissan unveiled its first self-driving prototype two years ago. An updated IDS (intelligent driving system) model debuted last week at the Tokyo auto show.

The company also is testing a specially equipped version of its Leaf electric car with autonomous technologies on public streets in Japan. Nissan's latest prototype vehicle has 12 cameras, five radar scanners and four lasers to help it identify road conditions, surrounding traffic and other potential challenges. Earlier prototypes had eight cameras, three radar units and an unspecified number of lasers, AN notes.

Iijima says the level of hardware and data processing sensors is now sufficient. But the software needs improvement. This was underscored during a recent test drive in Tokyo of the prototype Leaf with Iijima in the driver's seat and a reporter watching in the rear seat. In autonomous mode, the vehicle misinterpreted converging lanes of a city street at a sharp curve, forcing Iijima to take control to avoid hitting a guardrail, AN says.

Nissan plans to launch various autonomous technologies incrementally over the next five years. The initiative starts next year with the company's Piloted Drive 1.0 system that will allow cars to operate autonomously in single-lane highway traffic. An automated emergency braking feature also is expected to bow in 2016, according to AN.