No more drudgery driv­ing

Cars that steer them­selves is a ‘mega­trend’ that will make driv­ing a lot safer, the chair and CEO of the Re­nault Nis­san Al­liance, Car­los Ghosn told a ma­jor tech­nol­ogy con­fer­ence in Barcelona ear­lier this year.

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

DE­LIV­ER­ING the open­ing key­note ses­sion of Mo­bile World Congress 2015 that took place in the first week of March, chair and CEO of the Re­nault Nis­san Al­liance, Car­los Ghosn said all car­mak­ers are de­vel­op­ing self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy “be­cause it will make cars safer”.

Ghosn out­lined the Nis­san and Ren­ual’s timeline for rolling out Au­ton­o­mous Drive tech­nol­ogy over the next sev­eral years. The first wave will come in 2016, with a fea­ture that will al­low the car to ne­go­ti­ate stop-and-go traf­fic with­out di­rect driver in­ter­ven­tion.

The sec­ond wave, in 2018, will in­clude the car’s abil­ity to drive it­self on the high­way, in­clud­ing chang­ing lanes. The third wave will fea­ture tech­nol­ogy that per­mits the car to han­dle more com­plex city driv­ing au­tonomously.

In all th­ese cases, Ghosn said, the driver will re­main in con­trol at the wheel and have the op­tion to use the tech­nol­ogy when ap­pro­pri­ate.

One po­ten­tial hur­dle is gain­ing the nec­es­sary reg­u­la­tory ap­provals, Ghosn said. The Al­liance is work­ing with gov­ern­ments around the world to get the ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tions in place.

The tech­nol­ogy ini­tially will be fea­tured on higher-end Re­nault and Nis­san cars, Ghosn said.

Ghosn last week an­swered ques­tions on th­ese self-drive cars on the LinkedIn In­flu­encer se­ries.

Q: What is Au­ton­o­mous Drive?

A: Au­ton­o­mous Drive com­bines the tech­nol­ogy of ro­bot­ics, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, sen­sors and car-to-car con­nec­tiv­ity. It is a range of tech­nolo­gies that will be added to our cars over the next sev­eral years.

The con­cept al­ready ex­ists in some of the tech­nol­ogy in to­day’s cars: An­tilock brakes, ac­tive cruise con­trol, blindspot warn­ing or park­ing as­sist are ex­am­ples of tech­nolo­gies that op­er­ate au­tonomously, most with­out the driver even think­ing about them.

Q: When will we start to see this tech­nol­ogy?

A: We’re look­ing at tak­ing the ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy to the next level, where the driver can cede some con­trol — es­sen­tially hands-free driv­ing — while con­tin­u­ing to mon­i­tor the car’s op­er­a­tion. Much of this is near-term tech­nol­ogy, but it will come in waves, a fea­ture at a time.

At Nis­san and Re­nault, we have pledged by 2020 to have a com­plete pack­age of Au­ton­o­mous Drive tech­nolo­gies on mul­ti­ple mod­els. Start­ing from late next year, we plan to of­fer what in­ter­nally we are call­ing the “Traf­fic Jam Pi­lot,” a fea­ture that al­lows the car to drive au­tonomously and safely in heavy, stop-and-go traf­fic. This even­tu­ally will be of­fered across a wide range of our Nis­san, In­finiti and Re­nault ve­hi­cles.

In 2018, we’ll in­tro­duce tech­nol­ogy that al­lows a car to au­tonomously ne­go­ti­ate haz­ards and change lanes. And by 2020, we plan to in­tro­duce ve­hi­cles that can nav­i­gate with­out driver in­ter­ven­tion in nearly all sit­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing com­plex city driv­ing.

Q: When will we see the driver­less car?

A: Even­tu­ally, a more elab­o­rate com­bi­na­tion of th­ese tech­nolo­gies will lead us to the driver­less car — one that can op­er­ate fully au­tonomously, even with no­body in it. So you con­ceiv­ably could send it to pick up your chil­dren from school, or to take an ill par­ent to the doc­tor’s of­fice. But that is much fur­ther into the fu­ture — at least a decade away. In fact, I ex­pect the tech­nol­ogy will be per­fected well be­fore it hits the street, be­cause there are a host of reg­u­la­tory, legal and se­cu­rity is­sues that must be re­solved first.

Q: I love driv­ing. Why would I ever want to give up any con­trol over my car?

A: I love driv­ing, too! As we de­velop our Au­ton­o­mous Drive tech­nolo­gies, our fo­cus is on elim­i­nat­ing the drudgery of driv­ing, not the joy of driv­ing.

The fact is most driv­ers do not en­joy com­mut­ing in grind­ingly slow, stopand-go traf­fic. It’s the same thing with long trips along monotonously straight ex­press­ways. With our cars, the driver will de­cide whether to use the tech­nol­ogy when it’s ap­pro­pri­ate. It will be op­tional. Noth­ing will stop you from be­ing in full con­trol as you en­joy driv­ing the twisty turns of Cal­i­for­nia’s Pa­cific Coast High­way or the beau­ti­ful moun­tain passes in the Alps. Our goal is to en­hance the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, not de­tract from it. We want to build cars that give driv­ers more free­dom, more op­tions and more con­trol, but im­prove the driver’s abil­ity to avoid an ac­ci­dent.

Q: So is im­proved safety the main ad­van­tage?

A: Yes. At the Re­nault-Nis­san Al­liance, one of our in­ter­nal mantras is “Zero Emis­sions, Zero Fa­tal­i­ties”. We have made tremen­dous progress with elec­tric ve­hi­cles. Au­ton­o­mous Drive tech­nol­ogy is a big step to­ward achiev­ing the “zero fa­tal­i­ties” part.

Over time, this tech­nol­ogy holds the prom­ise of vir­tu­ally elim­i­nat­ing avoid­able crashes. Cars have be­come much safer over the past 50 years. But in the United States alone, there are still about six mil­lion crashes an­nu­ally. And that ex­acts a huge cost to those af­fected and on every­body’s in­sur­ance rates — a loss in to­tal of about $160 bil­lion a year just in the U.S. Au­ton­o­mous Drive will mean far fewer crashes. The car will be able to re­act faster than you can, just as an­tilock brakes can bring a car to a safe stop faster and pre­vent it from go­ing into a slide much bet­ter than any hu­man.

Q: Are there other benefits?

A: Con­ve­nience is one. This tech­nol­ogy will al­low you to make your com­mut­ing time more pro­duc­tive and less stress­ful. Con­sider this: Euro­peans on av­er­age spend 300 hours a year in their car; Amer­i­cans on av­er­age spend 750 hours a year in­side their car — that’s more than two hours a day. I think most peo­ple would rather use that time to check their emails, make a phone call, read an ar­ti­cle or lis­ten to a pod­cast and re­lax.

An­other big ben­e­fit is im­proved mo­bil­ity for the el­derly. It will al­low those of us get­ting older to drive longer. And if you look out fur­ther into the fu­ture of driver­less cars, it will of­fer the el­derly the abil­ity to get around even af­ter they can no longer drive by them­selves.

Q: Are you work­ing with other com­pa­nies on this tech­nol­ogy?

A: Yes, no one com­pany has the abil­ity to do this alone. For ex­am­ple, in Jan­uary we an­nounced a part­ner­ship with NASA through Nis­san’s Sil­i­con Val­ley Re­search Cen­tre in Cal­i­for­nia to work on many as­pects of this tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing re­mote con­trols. This is in ad­di­tion to sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties that we’re col­lab­o­rat­ing with, in­clud­ing Stan­ford, MIT, Ox­ford and the Uni­ver­sity of Tokyo.

Q: It sounds like the auto in­dus­try has be­come a high-tech in­dus­try.

A: In­deed, it has. As I travel around the world, I try to meet ev­ery few months with uni­ver­sity stu­dents. And I’ve been telling them that I re­ally can’t re­mem­ber a more ex­cit­ing time to be in the auto in­dus­try, due to the po­ten­tial of all this new tech­nol­ogy. This re­ally is go­ing to re­sult in a big change in how we ap­proach mo­bil­ity. It will make our cars smarter, it will ex­pand our abil­ity to get around as we grow older, and above all, it will make driv­ing far safer.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Charles Ghosn.

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