Nissan has begun demonstrations of its self-driving vehicle, with many of the first drivers noting the system’s cautious driving style.
The Japanese car company’s ‘intelligent driving’ feature allows drivers to hand over full control to the vehicle without needing to use the steering wheel, the accelerator pedal or brakes.
The car uses in-built radars, lasers, cameras and computer chips to ensure safety and route efficiency. It is capable of navigating junctions without lane markers and braking safely to a stop in dangerous situations.
Reporters testing the new vehicle in Tokyo were given a half-hour ride in the prototype on a scenic, pre-programmed course on Tokyo roads, which included stopping at traffic lights, making turns, changing lanes and crossing a bridge across the bay.
Many were critical of its performance for being painstakingly careful. The vehicle always stayed within the speed limit and slowed down during complicated situations, such as cars coming from another lane, so that it had time to determine the most appropriate course of action.
Nissan is planning to release the autonomous vehicles for sale in 2020 although abbreviated versions of the technology will be introduced from next year, such as keeping a safe distance from the car in front on congested roads.
The new technology is reportedly unable to deal with unexpected situations, such as moving to the side of the road if an ambulance approaches.
On one test ride, the human driver had to intervene because the car did not properly recognise a lane that was drawn obscurely.
Nissan’s general manager Tetsuya Iijima admitted the system needed fine-tuning, but was confident that it would deliver better safety than human drivers overall, citing research which showed that 90 per cent of traffic accidents are caused by driver error.
"It's like a kid, we need to make it understand the world - the severe world,” he said.
Jeremy Carlson, senior analyst at IHS Automotive and an expert on autonomous driving, praised Nissan for having "a clear road map" for the technology it was working on.
"Nissan's plans to successively deploy piloted drive technologies keep the automaker at or near the leading edge of the industry in driver assistance technology, both in Japan and worldwide," he said.
Last month, Tesla began upgrading its model S series through an over-the-air update to allow it to drive automatically on highways. Some early videos uploaded by users showed the car exhibiting dangerous behaviours.