It’s turning out to be a stellar year for the future of autonomous driving as NASA’s Ames Research Center and Nissan North America announced they’re teaming up to develop their own self-driving vehicles that can navigate streets on earth and the surface of Mars.
The five-year R&D partnership was announced on Thursday, and engineers from the space agency and the auto company will work together to create technology that could be used in terrestrial vehicles and space rovers. Nissan has set 2020 as the estimated year of introduction of the autonomous vehicles, which will have the ability to navigate in “nearly all situations.”
The first vehicle of the fleet is expected to be tested at NASA’s facility by the end of 2015. For its part, the Ames Research Center will assist in the design, development and testing of Nissan’s zero-emission driverless vehicles. NASA has a proven-track record with successful remotely operated vehicles (i.e., the Mars rover), and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn told Wired that NASA’s experience with human-machine interface will prove a huge boon for the car company.
But NASA, too, will benefit from the partnership. The space agency is interested in learning from Nissan’s already advanced autonomous vehicle technology. Previously, the car company has showcased cars that can automatically operate the main controls (like steering, braking and accelerating), and detect road conditions. As Pete Worden, the director of the Ames Research Center, told Wired, there are a lot of obstacles on Mars, like rocks and craters, that better autonomous technology can help overcome.
But the research and development of the self-driving cars is just the beginning of NASA and Nissan’s agreement. They will also partner in robotics, human-machine interface and more.