The Nissan Leaf autonomous model has broken the UK’s record for the longest self-driving car journey. This self-navigating car successfully drove on its own for 370 km which is the longest and most complex journey on record in the UK of any autonomous car.
Fact is, carmakers from around the world are racing against the clock to develop driverless technologies that could revolutionise road travel as we know it. They’ve all been buoyed by estimates suggesting that the global autonomous vehicle industry could be worth R18 trillion (£900 billion) in 2035.
Nissan Leaf On The GrandDrive
The autonomous Nissan Leaf was fitted with GPS, radar, Lidar laser measurement technology and cameras. The journey which was named the GrandDrive, started at Nissan’s technical centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire to their manufacturing plant in Sunderland. It wasn’t a simple, straight road either as the journey included several junctions, roundabouts and roads with no or minimal markings.
Nissan says that the leaf’s advanced positioning technology allows it to accurately assess its surroundings and make informed decisions about how to navigate roads and obstacles. During the journey, the Nissan Leaf travelled on a variety of roads, with traffic, ranging from country lanes to the M1 motorway. Thanks to the advanced autonomous technology, the Nissan Leaf knew when the vehicle needed to stop, start or change lanes along the route.
There were several safety measures in place which included regular breaks, risk assessments and putting someone in the drivers and front passenger seat who could take control if necessary. Nissan kept two engineers in the car throughout the entire journey as they achieved its target of 99% self-navigation. The engineers briefly took control only to pull into four service stations for checks and charging.
The HumanDrive Project
HumanDrive is a jointly funded £13.5m project from the British government and a consortium of nine industry leaders, including Nissan and Hitachi. Their aim is to develop an autonomous vehicle control system that resembles a natural, human driving style. As part of the project, autonomous Nissan Leaf cars have also been driven on test tracks.
According to Bob Bateman, the project manager for Nissan’s Europe technical centre: “The HumanDrive project allowed us to develop an autonomous vehicle that can tackle challenges encountered on UK roads that are unique to this part of the world, such as complex roundabouts and high-speed country lanes with no road markings, white lines or kerbs.”
David Moss, head of Nissan’s research and development in Europe said: “The vehicle is much more aware of what is happening in that surrounding area than possibly a driver would be, because of the number of sensors which are continually monitoring the environment.”
The Future Of Self-driving Cars
The car industry in Britain has promoted the economic opportunities of developing self-driving cars for some time. In fact, the UK’s flexible approach to testing autonomous vehicles helped Nissan decide on London for its first European tests back in 2017. During that test, a self-driving car travelled at speeds up to 80 km/h.
However, the advancement of self-driving cars around the world has been overshadowed by safety concerns and insurance liability. It remains unclear when we will see fully self-driving cars on the roads for general public use there are concerns over putting in place the right regulations, safety and affordability. The UK government is prioritising rolling out more advanced self-driving cars but only when the sector is truly able to do so.
In closing, Moss said: “You’re not going to see all of this tomorrow in a vehicle,” said Moss. “But what you will see is elements of it progressively come in … over the years.”
While the future of electric cars and autonomous vehicles in South Africa remain unclear, it is an exciting prospect, to say the least. Perhaps one day the infrastructure will be in place and the affordability issue would have been appropriately addressed. For more interesting updates on motoring news from around the world, be sure to follow us on Facebook and read our blog.