Three years ago, Nissan unveiled a one-of-a-kind Leaf electric car that incorporated autonomous driving features such as Automated Valet Parking, in which it would drop off its driver before finding parking on its own. In 2013, using the company's Autonomous Drive system, the car drove on a Tokyo highway without human assistance. This Thursday an updated test vehicle was unveiled, which features the automaker's new Piloted Drive system. Plans call for it to soon be tested on busy urban roads.
The experimental Leaf is now equipped with features including millimeter wave radar scanners, multiple cameras, high-speed computer chips, and a specialized HMI (Human Machine Interface). Its laser scanners are particularly significant, as they allow the onboard computer to determine the distance between the car and its surroundings, in three dimensions.
The new cameras are also important, as they work together to provide a 360-degree view around the vehicle. This feature assists the Leaf in plotting courses through intersections and sharp curving roads.
Using all this technology, the car can now autonomously perform maneuvers such as maintaining distance from a vehicle that it's following, staying in its lane, changing lanes, overtaking slower or stopped vehicles, merging with traffic, exiting, negotiating interchanges, turning at intersections, and stopping for red lights.
The HMI includes a main command center where drivers can switch between autonomous (piloted) and manual driving; an LCD screen that displays information such as speed, battery charge level, plus the view from the cameras; and, a heads-up display that shows the driver the car's intended driving path when in autonomous mode.
Although testing of the system is due to begin on busy city roads in the near future, the fully-functional version of Piloted Drive isn't due to appear in consumer vehicles until 2020. In the meantime Nissan plans on releasing Piloted Drive 1.0, which allows for autonomous driving under heavy highway traffic conditions, by the end of next year in Japan.