Firsthand Account Of Self-Driving Nissan LEAF Trip In London

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Nissan began testing self-driving versions of its popular all-electric LEAF in London recently, as we already reported, but not much further information on the matter was available at the time.

That’s changed now, though, with the surfacing of an interesting firsthand account of being driven around in one of the self-driving LEAFs in London — one that seems worth highlighting here. The trip in question was a pre-set route around east London, with Nissan’s General Manager of Autonomous Drive Development, Tetsuya Iijima, overseeing the demonstration.

As that coverage reveals, the self-driving Nissan LEAFs seem to be outfitted with a total of 12 cameras, 4 “lasers” (presumably LiDAR), and 5 “radars” — all integrated and processed via a large setup that currently fills much of the trunk.

Engadget provides more:

“When we approached the first roundabouts, the Leaf was cautious but navigated them with ease. In fact, the first third of the journey was largely uneventful, mainly owing to the fact that the ExCel and the surrounding area aren’t especially busy at 2:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon.”

“That calm, however, was soon punctuated by an accident. Not one involving us, but a collision between a car and an Ocado delivery van on a slip road joining the A13. It gave me the perfect opportunity to see exactly how a machine deals with an unexpected event between vehicles of differing sizes on a fast-moving filter road.”

“Approaching the incident, the Leaf recognised that the van and the car were stationary on the right side of the two-lane slip road and kept left in order to pass the obstruction. The radar soon picked up other cars attempting to merge in front of us and the software intelligently gave way. It didn’t take very long to clear the accident, but it was clear that Nissan’s current programming is designed to be overly cautious. A human driver might not have been so accommodating.”

In another demonstration of caution — perhaps extreme caution — the self-driving LEAF stopped for pedestrians in a case where it seems few human drivers would (perhaps just some weary senior citizens). Here’s the story:

“There were no causes for concern on the 50 mph A13. The car piloted itself without incident and then exited the carriageway to tackle the final residential stretch of Prince Regent Lane. Here, the street’s varying road markings, parked cars and an abundance of pedestrians provide a different challenge.

“Bus stops, traffic bollards and zebra crossings weren’t enough to phase the Leaf, but two young men crossing the road were enough to make it pause for thought. The duo were a couple of metres ahead of the Leaf and were heading towards the convenience store on the other side of the road. They had barely stepped off the pavement, on the side that was opposite our lane. The Leaf was moving at such a lick that they posed no threat — by the time they reached our side of the road, we would have been long gone.”

Notably, there was actually a space in the middle of the road where the pedestrians could have (and almost definitely would have) waited. But how would the car know this? And how is a sound judgment made in situations such as this?

After an inquiry on the matter from the journalist in question, Iijima-san noted: “This is one of the reasons we are testing in Britain.”

Overall, it’s an interesting account. As a reminder, Nissan is currently aiming to have its self-driving tech developed in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — where a successful showcase of the technology could serve as a strong statement, and as good PR for the firm.

The company’s ProPilot technology, which allows for fully autonomous single-lane freeway travel, will be rolled out later this year in the new LEAF (and also in the Qashqai). Following this initial rollout, ProPilot will then reportedly be rolled out to 8 more models over the next 3 years.

Related: Nissan To Debut New LEAF In September, Lease Extensions For Those Who Get On Waiting List

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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