NASA made history 47 years ago. On August 20th, 1969 Neil Armstrong made “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Today, NASA science continues to make an impact on just how humans move. But not just in space, also here on the ground. Case in point, a former NASA researcher now heads up the Nissan Drive project, which includes the automaker’s newly unveiled ProPilot semi-autonomous system.
Ex-NASA scientist Dr. Maarten Sierhuis helped develop the technology. He now heads up Nissan’s Research Center in Silicon Valley, after working for NASA and Verizon. He developed “anthropological” learning and its application. That is to say he studies how to create technology that benefits humans. Sierhuis says he wants to “build systems that are good for people.”
Control freaks will like his ‘people-first’ strategy. Sierhuis says his approach is to give the driver choices, not take away their control. Drivers can choose between fully automated and fully manual with automated ready to step in at any moment a potentially dangerous situation arises.
“I want the capability to drive myself and I want the capability to be driven. And I will decide which capability I want to have happen at that moment,” says Sierhuis.
ProPilot focuses on one-lane highway driving. It will roll it out soon in a minivan available only in Japan. Next, Nissan will create a “multiple-lane control” system. Nissan says it should be ready by 2018. In 2020, Nissan plans to add city navigation to its self-driving suite.
“Bringing this new technology to society, it will change so many things. And call me crazy, but for me, part of my drive of wanting to be thinking about these kinds of problems is that I want it to be done right,” Sierhuis says.
Nissan predicts fully self-driving cars are still a decade away from becoming a mainstream reality. In the meantime, each new technology can help drivers avoid accidents.
In the next four years, Nissan plans to offer 10 models in the U.S., Japan, Europe, and China with “significant” self-driving features.