NASA and Nissan, building self-driving cars for humans and aliens

Automotive manufacturers focused their attention on developing self-driving cars for the cities. But they haven’t considered the evolution of the product. What if the same technology could help us on the moon or on Mars? The buzz around the subject made NASA so interested that they joined powers with Nissan in making this concept come to life.

A common purpose: self-driving cars

This month NASA and Nissan announced their 5-year partnership in developing the technology we are all waiting for. The announcement comes at the right time for autonomous technology, with giants like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Google all recently entering the self-driving vehicle race.

Even if it’s a common project, the two partners have very different objectives. NASA is interested in improving the autonomous technology available for its Mars rover and future space exploration. Meanwhile on Earth, Nissan plans to launch self-driving cars in 2020—that means no human interaction for most driving conditions.

“The work of NASA and Nissan—with one directed to space and the other directed to earth—is connected by similar challenges,” said Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of Nissan Motor Co. Researchers from both organizations have set their goal to start testing the first fleet of self-driving vehicles before the end of 2015.

A Win-Win situation

Even if everybody considers Nissan to be the lucky partner, it might not actually be so. Both parties have enough to offer, technology-wise, when it comes to developing the self-driving cars.

NASA is the unchallenged technology innovation leader, developing numerous robotic machines, and let’s not forget that they have been steering rovers on the surface of Mars for years now. Their testing facilities have an unfair advantage that any car manufacturer would wish they had for developing self-driving cars faster.

But Nissan can lift its own weight. They have already showcased cars that can operate the main controls on their own—steering, braking, accelerating, and even detecting road conditions.

So while the future self-driving car manufacturer gets to test its models in the best conditions, NASA will learn new strategies from the Nissan Leaf and how they can be applied to rovers. “We have a rover on Mars. It is not very autonomous. As we go deeper into space, into more and more dangerous locations, we need to add that autonomy,” is what a NASA representative declared.

Why Nissan?

When it comes to developing technology for space exploration, it’s clear you would choose NASA. But when it comes to developing self-driving cars, there are more competitive players out there. One of them is already ready to test their self-driving vehicle at the NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The two-seat, all-electric prototype created by Google, dispenses with the traditional steering wheel, accelerator, and brake pedals in favor of just a start and stop button. And this is one of the aspects in which Nissan strategy is obviously different.

They believe that self-driving cars shouldn’t be recreated from bumper to bumper but should rather be a cheap update to the ones that already exist, which for NASA means they can turn it into an easy update for the rovers that they have already created.

How soon can we get our hands on them

If everything goes according to plan, by 2020, we will be able to buy self-driving cars from Nissan. The interesting thing is that, from there on, NASA will start sending more self-driving rovers into space as well.

So this partnership doesn’t just benefit our lifestyle but also how far humanity can get in the universe. What do you think? Will Nissan win the self -driving car race?

Philipp Kandal