On Monday, as part of Nissan’s first European tests of an autonomous vehicle, a self-driving car, “the modified Nissan LEAF”, was released on the streets, guided by cameras and radars to negotiate traffic and roundabouts.
Traveling at up to 50 miles (80 km) per hour, it started from local streets and subsequently moved to a major multi-lane road, showcasing the kind of technology many have pinned the hopes of future travel on.
This move is part of Britain’s campaign to woo developers of autonomous vehicles, in the hope of closing in on an industry it estimates could be worth 900 billion pounds ($1.1 trillion) worldwide by 2025.
What made Nissan choose London for its first series of tests was reportedly Britain’s flexible approach to testing autonomous vehicles, according to the director of its research center in Silicon Valley. Maarten Sierhuis said:
It’s not everywhere in Europe that we can go and drive on the road. You don’t want to go to the most difficult parts of London when you start. The system has to be tested.
He said this with regard to the east of the capital, where the trials are taking place near the ExCeL exhibition center and London City Airport.
Nissan made sure to coordinate with regulator Transport for London and the police before the trials took place, supplying details of its route and the rules it would follow, alongside recommendations for it to keep a full log that it would share in the event of an incident.
Inside the vehicle, the car can go from conventional to self-driving mode once the ‘Enter’ button is pushed, and a screen identifies the nearest vehicles to the car in red and green, also exhibiting the speed at which the car is traveling. Almost two dozen cameras, radars, and lasers are fitted on the top and around the side of vehicle to guide its path.
Nissan has already tested the self-driving LEAF in Tokyo and Silicon Valley, and hopes to carry out similar trials in other European cities soon after this week’s London trials. Sierhuis said:
We’re thinking of testing in the Netherlands and Paris. It’s not easy to go and test everywhere because we need to create maps, we need to get approval from the regulators and then it is expensive to set up a test.