HumanDrive on the road

Nissan performs UK’s longest autonomous car journey

Image credit: Nissan

A British-based research project, testing the latest autonomous vehicle technologies, has successfully completed a 230-mile self-navigated journey on UK roads.

The research project, known as HumanDrive, has completed two trials: ‘Grand Drive’, a 230-mile self-navigated journey on UK roads using advanced positioning technology, and a test track-based activity exploring human-like driving using machine learning to enhance the user experience. 

The test vehicles included Nissan Leaf electric cars, which featured GPS, radar, Lidar and camera technologies, which build up a perception of the world around the vehicle. Using the perceived world, the system made decisions about how to navigate roads and obstacles it encountered along its long road trip.

HumanDrive on the road

Image credit: Nissan

The first element of the project was the ‘Grand Drive’ from Cranfield, Bedfordshire, to Sunderland. This achievement was the culmination of 30 months’ work by the HumanDrive consortium – a team led by Nissan engineers.

The project is jointly funded by the UK government through the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Innovate UK, and nine other consortium partners, with the joint funding package for the project totalling £13.5m.

One of the key aspects of the project was to develop an advanced, autonomous vehicle control system. According to experts in the field, “ensuring that future advanced autonomous drive systems create a comfortable and familiar experience for customers is important as we move towards a more connected and autonomous future”.

Operation viewer

The car was installed with an autonomous driving operation viewer which showed the progress of its journey

Image credit: Nissan

According to the HumanDrive team, the 230-mile journey put into practice the lessons learned in a range of driving scenarios to negotiate country lanes with no or minimal road markings, junctions, roundabouts and motorways. The autonomous technology also came into play along the route to change lanes, merge and stop and start when necessary.

Bob Bateman, project manager for Nissan Technical Centre, Europe, said: “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.”

As part of the second part of the project, the team investigated how machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) could enhance the user experience and passenger comfort.

The pilot vehicles were also successfully tested on private tracks, in which the team incorporated an AI system developed by fellow consortium member Hitachi Europe Ltd. This system enabled real-time machine learning.

Hitachi Europe system viewer

A Hitachi European system viewer was installed in the car during track tests

Image credit: Nissan

According to Hitachi, by building a dataset of encountered traffic scenarios and solutions, this system can use this “learned experience” to handle similar scenarios in future and plot a safe route around an obstacle.

The team added that the technologies involved were subjected to a robust testing process developed using a range of facilities, including simulation and hardware in the loop as well as test tracks.

“Safely completing the longest autonomous drive in Britain is an incredible achievement for Nissan and the HumanDrive consortium, and a huge step towards the rollout of driverless cars on UK streets,” said business minister Nadhim Zahawi.

“This project is a shining example of how the automotive industry, working with government, can drive forward technology to benefit people’s mobility – while helping to slash carbon emissions.”

According to the team, “HumanDrive also went beyond the development of autonomous drive technology”. The research also focused on advancing cyber-security features in driverless vehicles, developing testing and safety methodologies for UK driverless testing and investigating the implications and implementation of such vehicles on the wider transport system. 

Vehicle interior

Image credit: Nissan

“The UK is fast becoming a leader in intelligent and automated vehicle and traffic management technology, a huge global sector set to create thousands of jobs,” said George Freeman, the Future of Transport minister.

“Our Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy is supporting transport innovation for cleaner, greener and smarter transport, and Nissan’s successful HumanDrive project is an exciting example of how the next phase of the UK’s transport revolution could look.”

Today, the new Nissan Juke, Qashqai and X-Trail models are all available with ProPILOT. This is a Nissan Intelligent Mobility technology that enhances a driver’s control by assisting with steering, acceleration and braking. ProPILOT works in a single lane on highways and is optimised for low-speed congestion and high-speed cruising.

According to experts at Nissan, by liberating drivers from some of the more mundane elements of driving, the system helps to reduce fatigue and stress, all while improving safety and enhancing control and confidence in the autonomous capabilities.

David Moss, senior vice president for Research & Development in Europe, Nissan Europe, said: “Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility vision is to develop autonomous drive technologies for use in all of our cars in any area of the world. The door is now open to build on this successful UK research project, as we move towards a future which is more autonomous, more electric, and more connected.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles