Thursday, October 31, 2013

Self-Driving Cars Are Coming For Nissan [VIDEO]

Mchael Chui, principal at the McKinsey Global Institute said, “We’re seeing striking advances in autonomous vehicles.” Speaking at an Atlantic magazine roundtable breakfast forum in New York October 28, Chui said that cars that drive themselves are one wave of the future. He estimated that self-driving vehicles traveling in a closely spaced convoy could result in 15 to 20 percent fuel-efficiency gains. Carbon emissions could be reduced by 300 million tons per year.
McKinsey’s new “Disruptive Technologies” study, authored by Chui and others, said that 1.5 million driver-caused deaths from car accidents in 2025 are “potentially addressable” by autonomous vehicles. In that same year, self driving technology could be worth between $100 billion and $1.4 trillion, the group’s study said.

There are plenty of caveats, McKinsey said, including the possibility of crippling legislation, insurance challenges, and security concerns from hackers. But the optimistic study said that autonomous champion Google has had only one accident in 300,000 driver-free miles, and that one was caused by human error.
The Future, It's Electric
The McKinsey study doesn’t address it, but the truly disruptive technology is electric cars moving by themselves. To be really useful, self-driving vehicles would do more than move in a convoy, they’d also put themselves away, refuel, and maybe even take care of your errands. It’s hard to imagine this being done safely with our current gasoline infrastructure, but current technology would make it easy for guided cars to park themselves over a wireless charging spot.
Nobody believes this more than Elon Musk of Tesla, who’s actively pursuing autonomous technology, and said that his company should have cars able to do 90 percent of the driving in three years.
Tweeting Tomorrow's Tech
In tweets last month, Musk wrote, “Intense effort underway at Tesla to develop a practical autopilot system for Model S.” And, “Engineers interested in working on autonomous driving,  Team will report directly to me.” The job title: Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Controls Engineer.
“Tesla’s jump into the mix makes perfect sense and aligns well with their position as a technology innovator,” Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, told the Wall Street Journal.
Most of the articles about Tesla’s autonomy skunkworks don’t even mention that this is all about synergy between battery power and the cameras, radar and lasers that allow cars to be self-guided.
Years ago, at Honda headquarters in Motegi, Japan, I saw how autonomous electrics might work. Honda was using small pod-like vehicles to move around its sprawling campus, and after use they moved in linked convoys—untouched by human hands—into purpose-built parking lots.
Honda didn’t have wireless charging then, but it will by the time self-driving is practical. One of the big headaches with wireless is that it requires very precise alignment between the car and the pad on the floor. Bingo, autonomy takes away that headache, because cars without drivers will move very precisely indeed.
King of the Japanese Road: A LEAF
The Japanese government has granted a license plate to just one autonomous vehicle—a Nissan LEAF. The company has set 2020 as its target date for getting a self-driver on the road, and it's likely to have batteries. “I think we’re going to get there even sooner than we think,” said CEO Carlos Ghosn, who sat behind the wheel of the LEAF in Japan. “I drove prototypes two years ago that were much less advanced than this one.”
Here's Ghosn, on video, with thoughts on autonomous LEAFs:
Nissan delayed the Infiniti LE (an upscale LEAF) to at least late 2015 because, as global product chief Andy Palmer put it, “There are some interesting advances in electric technology we hadn’t anticipated when we showed the LE, which, by delaying a little bit, we can incorporate into the car.” These new advances could well revolve around the wireless charging that is slated to be on the LE.
The Infiniti's LE's wireless system may not be quite ready yet. (Nissan photo)
Here’s one possible scenario: The LE will incorporate a self-driving feature. When the driver arrives home, he or she will push a button and the car will take over to deploy itself over the wireless charger. That’s well within current technology—hell, it was within yesterday’s tech.