A HEAVILY modified Nissan Leaf has driven and navigated itself on a record-setting 230 mile trip on public roads at the culmination of a £13.5 million, Government-backed British project designed to develop the latest autonomous vehicle technologies.
The so-called ‘Grand Drive' from Nissan's research and development facility at Cranfield in Bedfordshire to the company's Sunderland factory covered all types of roads and driving scenarios and saw the Leaf negotiate country lanes with no or minimal road markings or kerbs, junctions, roundabouts and motorways.
The autonomous technology was used to change lanes, merge and stop and start when necessary with two engineers on board and monitoring the vehicle's actions at all times. Both were fully trained to conduct autonomous vehicle testing, with one behind the wheel and ready to take control if required and the second supervising the car's control and monitoring systems.
The achievement was the culmination of 30 months' work by the HumanDrive consortium - a team led by Nissan engineers in the UK, working in partnership with nine other companies and organisations including electricals giant Hitachi, the University of Leeds and Highways England.
One of the key aspects of the project was to develop an advanced, autonomous vehicle control system ensuring that future advanced autonomous drive systems create a comfortable and familiar experience for drivers by emulating a natural, human-like driving style.
The Nissan Leaf used in the project was fitted with advanced positioning technology featuring GPS, radar, laser scanning LIDAR and camera technologies which build up a perception of the world around the car. Using that perceived world, the system can make decisions about how to navigate roads and obstacles it encounters on a journey.
Ahead of the 230 mile self-driving trip the systems had been extensively tested using simulations and on closed to the public test tracks.
According to David Moss, Nissan's European R&D vice-president: "The door is now open to build on this successful UK research project, as we move towards a future which is more autonomous, more electric, and more connected."
And Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi believes that completing the longest autonomous drive in Britain is not just an incredible achievement for Nissan and the HumanDrive consortium, but also"a huge step towards the rollout of driverless cars on UK streets."