Two years to auto-parking cars, says Nissan

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Two years to auto-parking cars, says Nissan

Nissan Motor will introduce cars that park themselves by 2016, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said, as the Japanese carmaker rushes to be among the first offering automated driving.

The feature, along with technology enabling cars to autonomously navigate congested highways, will be available in a wide range of vehicles, Ghosn said yesterday in Tokyo. Two years later, the company plans to offer vehicles that can change lanes automatically, and by 2020, they’ll be able to handle intersections on their own, he said.

“You need to be first with very significant features,” said Ghosn, who also is CEO of France’s Renault SA. “There’s always a premium with those who come first.”

Carmakers including Nissan, Toyota Motor and Daimler AG, along with technology companies such as Google are accelerating research into systems that can make driving partly or fully automatic. Potential benefits include eliminating traffic accidents and congestion and allowing people to use the time in transit for activities other than driving.

Ghosn, 60, said the first automakers to introduce automated-driving features will have an advantage as new technologies are associated with the brands that introduced them. Nissan, whose Leaf hatchback was the first mass-market fully electric car, said last August it planned to sell affordable, fully autonomous vehicles by 2020.

General Motors, the largest U.S. carmaker, plans to have automated cars that can drive on controlled-access highways, such as the U.S. Interstate system, by 2020. Germany’s Daimler is working to introduce trucks that steer, brake and accelerate independently as early as 2025.

Google said in May it would put at least 100 autonomous cars it designed in trials starting this year. The two-seat cars have a top speed of 25 miles (40 kilometers) an hour and no steering wheels, brakes or accelerator pedals. Google hasn’t said if it will sell such vehicles.

Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, has said it favors more of a “co-pilot” approach to automated vehicles, rather than a driverless system. The Toyota City, Japan-based company hasn’t said when it will sell the vehicles.

Several automakers already have deployed automatic parking capabilities in cars on the road. Toyota calls its system Intelligent Parking Assist and has offered it on cars such as the Prius hybrid. Ford Motor’s Active Park Assist also is available in several models sold in North America and Europe.

U.S. regulators are encouraging development of automated vehicle systems to reduce traffic accidents that annually kill more than 30,000 people. Regulatory and legal issues with self- driving cars, such as liability in accidents, have yet to be addressed.

A potential downside to driverless cars is that they may add to urban sprawl and pollution as they encourage longer commutes, according to Ken Laberteaux, senior principal scientist for Toyota’s North American team studying future transportation.

“U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live farther from things,” Laberteaux said in an interview at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco. “The pattern we’ve seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying, ‘I’m going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.’”

Local governments could take steps to avoid lengthier commutes by drivers of autonomous cars through measures such as tolls, said Laberteaux, who predicted technologies allowing drivers to turn over controls to the car itself may arrive this decade.

As carmakers compete to introduce automated driving, they need to work as much on software design as mechanical engineering, according to Maarten Sierhuis, director of Nissan’s Silicon Valley research center in Sunnyvale, California, who is leading Nissan’s automated-vehicle program.

Making cars that are “deliberative” in assessing road conditions, rather than just reactive, requires artificial intelligence, Sierhuis said in an interview this week at the San Francisco conference. Nissan is developing software to read and filter sensor data much as a human brain does, he said.


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