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Nissan teams with NASA to develop autonomous tech

With NASA's help, Nissan plans to deliver autonomous vehicles by 2020.

"Ground control to Carlos Ghosn" is the latest refrain from Nissan's charismatic global boss after the company announced a five-year research and development collaboration NASA.

The partnership is intended to advance autonomous vehicles with a view to putting a car on urban roads by 2020.

Nissan is leveraging the expertise of NASA's Ames Research Centre to accelerate the development of a self-driving vehicle. The brief includes autonomous drive systems, human-machine interface solutions, network-enabled applications, and software analysis and verification.

The theory is the principles involved in creating vehicles that can autopilot on out-of-this-earth environments should be applicable to more terrestrial applications.

The first tests are expected by the end of this year

NASA likewise gains access to Nissan's expertise in "component technologies for autonomous vehicles, shared research on vehicular transport applications, and access to prototype systems and provision of test beds for robotic software".

The Ames Research Centre is renowned for its involvement in NASA's headline explorations, from the development of the systems needed to land the Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity to controlling the robots aboard the International Space Station.

Ames director Pete Worden says the collaboration leverages the centre's expertise in remote control of complex vehicles.

"We look forward to applying knowledge developed during this partnership towards future space and aeronautics endeavours," he notes.

Nissan has set 2020 for the introduction of autonomous drive vehicles

Ames researchers will test a fleet of zero-emission autonomous vehicles for proof-of-concept remote operations for transporting goods, payloads and people. The first tests are expected by the end of this year.

Nissan's Ghosn says the challenges of automating vehicles in space and on earth have close parallels. "The partnership will accelerate Nissan's development of safe, secure and reliable autonomous drive technology that we will progressively introduce to consumers beginning in 2016 up to 2020," Ghosn says.

"This partnership brings together the best and brightest of NASA and Nissan and validates our investments in Silicon Valley."

Nissan has set 2020 for the introduction of autonomous drive vehicles that can navigate in nearly all situations, including the most complex situation, city driving.

The tie-up is the second time Nissan has teamed with NASA to improve vehicle systems.

Nissan's "Zero Gravity" seats in the Altima are based on NASA's research into "posture-neutral" seats that minimise distortion to the spine and reduce fatigue on long-distance journeys. Such innovations show that, while space may be the final frontier, developing technology to tame it can be readily applied on terra firma.

Other NASA-inspired innovations include memory foam, invisible braces, freeze drying, handheld vacuum cleaners and scratch-resistant sunglass lenses.