Without Driver Or Fear In The Autonomous Nissan In London
The Japanese car manufacturer has recently tested its unmanned cars in the streets of the British capital. The JDN was able to embark and let them drive. Without trembling.
Almost invisible. This is the first detail that strikes at the sight of the autonomous Nissan that is about to take us into the streets of London: no holes roughly cut into the grill to place the radar, nor large sensors placed on the roof of the vehicle. To find the 12 cameras, 5 radars, and 4 scanner lasers that equip the coach that will take us to the capital of the United Kingdom, we must follow the indications of Tetsuya Iijima, head of the autonomous vehicle strategy of the brand and “pilot” the one-day time.
A camera was hidden in the trunk handle. © JDN
Under the mirrors, on the edges of the roof, in the trunk handle, or behind a small black window in the bottom of the doors of this futuristic Nissan Leaf, they are both everywhere and nowhere in the eyes of a non-insider. “Design is one of the most important challenges for the autonomous car, and this is an overview of the self-driving vehicle that we want to commercialize in 2020 (the Renault-Nissan Alliance will propose 10 within three years, ed.), but in the future it will be even better integrated and everything will be hidden, “he promises. The sensors are getting smaller and smaller, but according to him, they will be less and less numerous: “The cameras, for example, have a resolution of 1.3 megapixels for the moment, but they will surely have 7 or 8 d by 2020. Instead of having four on the roof, it would only take two to run the autopilot. ”
This technological paraphernalia, called ProPILOT by the Japanese manufacturer, allows the vehicle to move without human intervention in most normal driving situations, such as a motorway exit, overtaking of slower or stopped vehicles or stopping at a stop. fire.
A female voice warns of each maneuver and announces in advance the directions borrowed
If Thursday, March 2, the day of tests for the press, the rain is not at the rendezvous, the British sky can quickly cover and the showers unload without warning. “We have no problem with the rain,” says Tetsuya Iijima. On the other hand, it is much more complicated when it comes to snow or dust, especially: “For now the only solution is the rag, but we have been working since 2013 on a system that allows the sensors to clean itself automatically with forced air, “he says.
Reassured by these explanations, the crew embarks for a loop of ten kilometers on the roads of East London. A push of a button placed near the steering wheel and the trick is played: the driver becomes the passenger. A female voice warns of each maneuver and announces in advance the directions borrowed: “We are working a lot on the man-machine interface because it is essential for us that the user relaxes,” says the head of the autonomous vehicle strategy from Nissan. Relaxed, the specialist Nissan is: he does not hesitate to turn to discuss in the middle of a roundabout to extol the merits of ProPILOT.
If he is responsible in the event of an accident, Tetsuya Iijima is very confident about the system. Also tested in Tokyo since 2015 and in Silicon Valley since 2016, it automatically locates for example a traffic light and recognizes if it is red, orange or green depending on the position of the lighted bulb. We are approaching a green light. In place of the traditional speedometer, a screen indicates the traffic light. A few tens of meters from the intersection, the light changes to orange and the onboard computer decide to slow down to stop at its level. “The algorithms were able to determine depending on the distance that it was too late not to go red,” he says.
Another screen, placed near the gear lever, displays the high-definition map that the vehicle uses to calculate the route. It is provided by a giant of the sector that Tetsuya Iijima is careful to reveal. For example, cartography makes it possible to anticipate crosswalks. The sensors than do the rest, to detect pedestrians crossing. This is precisely the case, before us, and again, no sudden braking: the Nissan Leaf indicates them on the screen and let the three teenagers until they reached the sidewalk to leave.
Shortly after, a bus slows, and we too, to stop completely. Tetsuya hesitates to take the hand to overtake him and continue our journey, but he changes his mind until the bus leaves: “In the future we want the car to see if it is a stop to drop passengers, and at that point, we could eventually overtake, or a traffic jam, for example. We want the system to eventually be able to detect the blinkers of others. ”
“We want the system to eventually be able to detect the indicators of other cars”
About twenty minutes after our departure, here we are at the destination. In total, Tetsuya Iijima will have had to regain control – simply by touching the steering wheel – only twice: once per precaution, to overtake a car that suddenly stopped in double file, and another to park us at the arrival. The only downside is to get in the trunk: the trunk of the small leaf electric is filled with powerful computers, bulky, noisy and sources of strong heat.
Several modules, whose marks are concealed by black adhesive, are stacked. The logo of Mobileye, the Israeli start-up that has already attracted many manufacturers, appears through one of them. We must not see the sign of any partnership when Takao Asami, vice-president of the Renault-Nissan Alliance in charge of research and advanced engineering, tells us when we arrive: “We are trying all the technologies of the market but today no one satisfies us. The prices are too high or we want to make the car autonomous accessible, it is also why we present it in a small city like the Leaf. We do not want the technology double or triple the price of the vehicle and our strategy is to wait for the sensors to be cheaper to make our choice. ”
To avoid a major extra cost and suddenly, and at the same time to smoothly accept the car without the driver to the general public, Nissan gradually incorporates semi-autonomous functions in its models. The brand has been marketing in Japan since last August its new Serena minivan with, via an option billed around 1,000 euros, the first semi-autonomous version of ProPILOT. It makes it able to move along on the highway, automatically managing the distance to the vehicle ahead and the speed up to 100km / h. It will be available this year in Europe on the new Qashqai and the next Micra and this technology will evolve with the autonomous change from one track to another in 2018.
In 2020, Nissan will market at least one model equipped with all the autonomous functions tested in London. Reading his diary or sleeping behind the wheel, however, is not for tomorrow, even if Ali Mortazavi, a researcher at the Nissan Research Center in Silicon Valley, is confident: “It may take ten years, but certainly not several decades. ”