Nissan is set to deploy NASA-developed technology that uses humans to help navigate its autonomous cars remotely, conceding that true Level Five autonomous vehicles are likely impossible.
The brand says its “human-in-the-loop system” (inspired by NASA’s Mars Rover program and co-developed by Nissan's Chief Technology Director - and 13-year veteran of the space agency - Maarten Sierhuis) solves one of the biggest issues facing autonomous vehicles; how cars can respond to sudden and unforseen changes in road conditions.
The news, delivered at the brand’s Nissan Future summit, is an about-face from the automotive world's original vision of true autonomy; that cars would one day navigate every road and handle every situation that might arise without any human interaction.
Instead, Nissan has joined a growing chorus of voices that now concede that true human-free autonomy might never be a reality, with the brand instead now aiming for vehicles that are mostly autonomous, but remain connected to a human-staffed control room that can issue the vehicle instructions should it encounter a situation it can’t deal with, like closed roads, private properties or dropping passengers at an airport.
Those human controllers would then tap into the car’s external cameras and help navigate the vehicle out of tricky situations. Nissan refers to its technology as SAM (seamless autonomous mobility), with the earliest iterations to target driverless robo-taxis and autonomous package delivery services.
"It comes from the background of NASA. Because even if you take your spacecraft to the end of the universe, at some point you still need to communicate something back to a human, so you have a human in the loop," Dr Sierhuis says.
"(Autonomous cars are) more challenging than space. In space, you just need to avoid the rocks, but on Earth you need to avoid a lot of humans."
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