An autonomous vehicle, capable of driving completely by itself, is nascent technology, and as such can be nerve-racking. But when the sci-fi overtones die down, what is left is a deeply tested artificial intelligence system that is much like a human driver – only safer.
Shifting from semi- to fully autonomous
There are many vehicles on the road that already incorporate some level of autonomy. Nissan's current Safety Shield tech suite incorporates systems such as adaptive cruise control – which can slow down or speed up a vehicle automatically by using sensors to determine to the location of other vehicles around it – and a 360-degree camera-view function. Many luxury sedans, including the Infiniti Q50, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lincoln MKZ, apply corrective steering if they sense they are wandering out of their lane.
Moving from technologies like these to full autonomy is a huge step. But Dr Maarten Sierhuis, research director at Nissan’s new tech facility in Silicon Valley, California, says the company and other automakers are already making inroads. He frames the next development phases as going "from safety technologies that intercept or warn the driver – and the driver being in control all of the time – to a technology that basically can make decisions like a human in any driving situation."