Nissan’s autonomous vehicle testing continues on UK roads

Nissan is continuing its tests of a modified version of its Leaf electric car equipped with self-driving technology on public roads in the UK.

The vehicles are navigating busy routes around east London and the ongoing trials are the first from a major auto manufacturer in terms of carrying out autonomous testing in Britain.

The Japanese company is clocking up more than 300 miles as it develops fully autonomous vehicles, with the aim of making them widely available by 2020.

Three Leaf cars are being taken on 25-minute round trips from the ExCeL exhibition centre to Beckton.

This involves a number of challenges, including roundabouts, lane changes, pedestrian crossings and speeds of up to 50mph.

So far, the Leaf cars have avoided collisions, utilising 12 cameras, five radars and four lasers to enable them to identify surrounding objects and calculate their position on the road to within a few centimetres.

There is also a driver in the front seat who can take control in case of any emergency.

Nissan first began testing the technology in Tokyo in 2015. Although the demonstrations were successful, many of the first drivers noted the system’s extremely cautious driving style

Tetsuya Iijima, Nissan’s global head of autonomous driving, said: “The reason we’re focusing on autonomous driving technology is safety.

“Around 93 per cent of accidents come from the driver. If a machine replaces human manoeuvres, 90 per cent may be reduced. Safety enhancement is the first motivation.”

Single-lane autonomous driving will be featured in Nissan’s Qashqai from next year, with fully so-called driverless cars on the market two years later.

However, as Mr Iijima conducted one of the east London tests, he did caution that the vehicles available in 2020 will have “some limitation”.

He said: “In scarcely-populated traffic, the driver can be relaxed. We can explain to the customer, in that situation there’s almost nothing you need to do. In this area (of east London) the driver needs to pay attention because the vehicle is not perfect.”

Small-scale tests of driverless car technology have previously been conducted in locations such as Milton Keynes, Greenwich and Bristol.

Last month, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced innocent casualties from driverless car crashes would be protected under new insurance rules.

A single-insurance product will be required to cover both a motorist when they are driving as well as a car when it is in an automated mode.

This will mean people hurt in driverless car crashes that were not their fault will have “quick and easy access to compensation”, the DfT said.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, while outlining the new Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill in the House of Commons yesterday, said that the new vehicles will spark a “revolution on our roads” and called automated vehicles “one of the most exciting technological developments that mankind has developed for a very long time”.

“It is an area where we want this country to be at the front of the development of the technology, the trialling of the technology and the experience of the technology - this Bill paves the way to achieve that.”

He also said that automated vehicles could help improve congestion and air quality through better driving.

Not all MPs are as enthused or impressed by the new technology. Conservative MP Steve Baker has voiced concerns that the increased pressure on people to use automated vehicles to help improve road safety will ultimately impact negatively on those who enjoy driving for fun.

“I can’t imagine buying a driverless car and the first question I’d always have is: ‘How do I turn these things off?’,” he said. “I would not wish to see conventional driving banned. Some of us do enjoy to drive or ride a motorcycle as a matter of pleasure, to take some joy in the skill of driving for ourselves.”

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