A Nissan Leaf has completed one of the most definitive real-world autonomous driving tests, travelling autonomously for 370 km from Cranfield, Bedfordshire (just north of London) due north to Sunderland.
The £13.5-million project (about $23.3 million Canadian), called HumanDrive, had been in the planning for some 30 months, with various partners, including Cranfield University, Highways England and the University of Leeds, to name just a few. It was unique in several ways (most real-world testing takes place on highways for limited distances) in that it involved complex roundabouts and high-speed country roads unique to the UK.
“The HumanDrive project allowed us to develop an autonomous vehicle that can tackle challenges encountered on UK roads that are unique to this part of the world, such as complex roundabouts and high-speed country lanes with no road markings, white lines or kerbs,” said Bob Bateman, Project Manager for Nissan’s European Technical Centre.
With a full complement of evaluators on board, the Leaf was able to make decision about how to navigate roads and obstacles, change lanes, merge and stop and start as required over the course of the road trip.
The chief aim of the “Grand Drive” was to develop an advanced autonomous driving (AD) control system that would make the vehicle act more natural in difficult driving scenarios and also included a test-track stint to explore human-like driving and put machine learning to the test.
The track testing featured real-time machine learning by partner Hitachi Europe, building a dataset of previously encountered traffic scenarios and solutions and then plotting a safe route around an obstacle.
“Safely completing the longest autonomous drive in Britain is an incredible achievement for Nissan and the HumanDrive consortium, and a huge step towards the rollout of driverless cars on UK streets,” said Business Minister, Nadhim Zahawi. “This project is a shining example of how the automotive industry, working with government, can drive forward technology to benefit people’s mobility - while helping to slash carbon emissions.”
Furthermore, the test also aided in advancing cyber security features in AD vehicles, and will gather up everything that was learned to aid in the development of safety methodologies and the implications AD vehicles will have on the transport system as a whole.
“The UK is fast becoming a leader in intelligent and automated vehicle and traffic management technology, a huge global sector set to create thousands of jobs,” said UK Future of Transport Minister, George Freeman. “Our Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy is supporting transport innovation for cleaner, greener and smarter transport, and Nissan’s successful HumanDrive project is an exciting example of how the next phase of the UK’s transport revolution could look.”