By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) – Guided by cameras and radars, and negotiating traffic and roundabouts, a self-driving Nissan car took to the streets of London on Monday for the Japanese company’s first European tests of an autonomous vehicle.
Travelling at up to 50 miles (80 km) per hour and moving from local streets to a major multi-lane road, the modified Nissan LEAF electric car showcased the kind of technology many hope to be the future of travel.
Britain has been wooing developers of autonomous vehicles, hoping to grab a slice of an industry it estimates could be worth 900 billion pounds ($1.1 trillion) worldwide by 2025.
It also recently announced changes to allow for a single insurance policy to cover motorists driving conventionally and in autonomous mode, as it tries to get regulations in place to encourage the uptake of driverless cars from 2020.
Britain’s flexible approach to testing autonomous vehicles helped Nissan pick London for its first European tests, the director of its research center in Silicon Valley told Reuters.
“It’s not everywhere in Europe that we can go and drive on the road,” Maarten Sierhuis said.
“You don’t want to go to the most difficult parts of London when you start. The system has to be tested,” he said of the east of the capital where the trials are taking place near the ExCeL exhibition center and London City Airport.
Nissan liaised with regulator Transport for London and the police ahead of the trials, supplying details of its route and the rules it would follow, and was advised to keep a full log that it would share in the event of an incident, it said.
Inside the vehicle, the car switches from conventional to self-driving mode at the touch of the button ‘Enter’ and a screen identifies the nearest vehicles to the car in red and green, also showing the speed the car is traveling.
Nearly two dozen cameras, radars and lasers are fitted on the top and around the side of vehicle to guide its path.
A driverless car took to Britain’s streets for the first time in the southern English town of Milton Keynes in October last year but traveled at a much slower speed.
Global automakers are racing to catch up with the likes of Google and Tesla which have carried out several autopilot and self-driving tests in recent months in the United States and elsewhere.
Jaguar Land Rover is planning to test around 100 autonomous and internet-connected cars in Britain by 2020, while Volvo is also planning a test soon in London.
Nissan, which has already tested the self-driving LEAF in Tokyo and Silicon Valley, hopes to carry out similar trials in other European cities soon after this week’s London trials.
“We’re thinking of testing in the Netherlands and Paris. It’s not easy to go and test everywhere because we need to create maps, we need to get approval from the regulators and then it is expensive to set up a test,” Sierhuis said.
(Editing by Mark Potter)