Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Self-driving cars take center stage at Tokyo auto show


Nissan chairman and chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn yesterday unveils the Nissan IDS Concept, an autonomous driving and zero emissions electric vehicle, at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show in Japan.

Photo: EPA

Visions of cars that drive themselves without emitting pollution while entertaining passengers with online movies and social media are taking center stage at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Nissan Motor Co showed a concept vehicle loaded with laser scanners, a 360-degree camera setup, radar and computer chips so the car can “think” to deliver autonomous driving. The Japanese automaker called it IDS, which stands for “intelligent driving system.”

Nissan said it expected to offer some autonomous driving features by the end of next year in Japan. By 2018, it said vehicles with the technology would be able to conduct lane changes on highways. By 2020, such vehicles would be able to make their way through intersections on regular urban roads.

Nissan officials said they were working hard to make the car smart enough to recognize the difference between a red traffic light and a tail light, learn how to turn on intersections where white lane indicators might be missing and anticipate from body language when a pedestrian might cross a street.

Nissan’s IDS vehicle is also electric, with a new battery that is more powerful than the one currently in the automaker’s Leaf electric vehicle.

A major challenge for cars that drive themselves is winning social acceptance. They would have to share the roads with normal cars with drivers as well as with pedestrians, animals and unexpected objects.

That is why some automakers at the show are packing the technology into what looks more like a golf cart or scooter than a car, such as Honda Motor Co’s Wander Stand and Wander Walker scooter.

Instead of trying to venture out on freeways and other public roads, these cars are designed for controlled environments, restricted to shuttling people to pre-determined destinations.

At a special section of the show, visitors can try out some of the so-called “smart mobility” devices such as Honda’s seat on a single-wheel as well as small electric vehicles.

Regardless of how zanily futuristic and even dangerous such machines might feel, especially the idea of sharing roads with driverless cars, that era is inevitable simply because artificial intelligence is far better at avoiding accidents than human drivers, HIS analyst Egil Juliussen said.

It just might take some time, such as until the 2030s, he said.

Such technology will offer mobility to people who cannot drive or who do not have cars, and it can also reduce pollution and global warming by delivering efficient driving, he said.

Other automakers, including General Motors Co, BMW AG, Mercedes, Toyota Motor Corp and Tesla Motors Inc are working on self-driving technology, as are companies outside the industry, such as Google Inc and Uber Technologies Inc.

Honda chairman Fumihiko Ike, who is also head of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association which is organizing the show, said the Japanese government was putting tremendous pressure on Japan’s automakers to perfect self-driving features.

Japan is eager to showcase such technology in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, such as having driverless cars pick up athletes from airports and taking them to the Olympic Village.

However, Ike acknowledged he had doubts. Unexpected things could happen on roads, like a package falling off a van, and the human brain has better powers of imagination than the best artificial intelligence, he said.

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