For those of us whose childhood dream job was to be an astronaut, but have instead been doled the life of mere earth-hugging creatures, a new realization of that dream, well sort of, is on the horizon with Nissan and NASA collaborating in the creation of the carmaker’s futuristic fleet of autonomous vehicles. According to the plan, NASA will contribute its technology that was originally intended for the Mars rover to be used in the cars for Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) which will guide the vehicles past unexpected obstacles.
It has been proven again and again that there are some very intelligent self-driving cars being developed by the likes of Tesla, Ford, Google, and of course who can forget this year’s CES surprise from Faraday Future with their FF 19, the fastest electric vehicle no less? But, according to The Verge, while they can all drive perfectly well in optimal conditions, clear streets, well-lit courses, immobile obstacles, etc., most of them have their work cut out when it comes to handling unexpected occurrences that are a part of everyday-traffic in the real world. Things like someone stepping off the curb when they shouldn’t, vehicles stalling or coming to a complete halt in traffic, or temporary functionality glitches in a sensory device (akin to a human driver temporarily losing their sight) could lead to a serious pile up.
Therefore, if Nissan wants to build a truly autonomous vehicle it will need space-age technology, and NASA’s SAM is just what that is. The system will allow the car to analyze vehicular data in the form of images and other inputs, especially when it runs into something it can’t process (which is usually a sign of an abnormal driving condition) Technoactuality reports. SAM, which was adapted from NASA’s Visual Environment for Remote Virtual Exploration (VERVE), a system used to guide interplanetary robots like the Mars rovers, will then feed the information back to a “mobility manager” for analysis of the data before a decision is made on how to get around the obstacle. Once the vehicle is safely on the other side, it gets back to its autonomous mode.
Nissan intends to use this system in commercial fleets tasked with handling package deliveries and this could soon become a realization as the “mobility manager” method is faster than having to wait for a vehicle that was fed all the data to enable it to analyze and take the appropriate action in a unique situation all on its own. Anticipating every scenario and response could prove to not only be a daunting task but an impossible one.
At the testing of the prototype car, the all-electric LEAF, at the Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, the vehicle was able to impress executives from NASA and Nissan as well as other invited guests. NASA reports that Ames Director Eugene Tu said the demonstration wasn’t just an indicator of the transfer of space technology to industry. He said it was a demonstration of the application of research for their space technology, along with uses for their unmanned aircraft systems research. He continued by saying, that this is an example of technology driving exploration which will enable future space missions.
By Liku Zelleke
Photo Courtesy Nissan