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NASA-Nissan JV to Bring Self-Driving Space Cars

What do you think the world will see in the next 4 or 5 years as NASA and Nissan join forces? How about self-driving space cars? Not impossible, right?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, the US government agency responsible for aerospace research, aeronautics and space exploration, partners with Nissan, a Japanese multinational corporation that manufactures automobiles. They are thinking of building driverless cars that will not only take people across places here on earth but as well as on Mars and other destinations in the universe.

The space agency and the automobile manufacturer recently announced their half a decade partnership that will see their experts, master builders, designers and engineers teaming up and working hand in hand to build and develop the space cars of the future. The research and development effort is something the world will look forward and will be excited about because it will potentially create technology that will make passenger vehicles explore distant planets.

The combined R&D effort will mostly take place in Nissan’s Silicon Valley research facility located at Sunnyvale, California. NASA and Nissan will develop and modify Nissan’s hatchback electric LEAF (Leading, Environmentally friendly and Affordable Family car) and test it for zero-emissions but this stage will take place at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

To Maarten Sierhuis, this partnership will greatly bring more than what anyone can imagine because it is a combined effort and endeavor of robotics specialists from NASA and autonomy experts from Nissan. Sierhuis, Nissan’s Silicon Valley research facility director, who also spent a decade at NASA as a senior scientist, anticipates a lot of possibilities with this team up as he sees a perfect blend of potential, competence and capability. Also, to him, the partnership came at just the right time because Nissan already started autonomous test driving in city streets, wherein the company pledged to release autonomous cars to the market by the year 2020, and NASA will be able to help them achieve such goal.

NASA has already proven its ability to operate vehicles from a distance, not to mention light years away from the planet. With the space agency’s superlative and advanced levels of engineering, it can teach Nissan a lot about building or creating remarkably reliable and durable systems and about interaction between human and machine. Carlos Ghosn, Chief Executive Officer of Nissan, looks at NASA as a great and timely companion, and Nissan’s collaboration and partnership with the space agency will teach them things they need to know for them to level up in their understanding and development of autonomous cars.

As for NASA’s Ames Research Center director, Pete Worden, it is a win-win relationship because they will also be learning several important points from Nissan about autonomous vehicles. The automobile manufacturer has already been testing their cars to navigate autonomously in cities. This is apparently one of the toughest or most difficult challenges facing autonomous cars, because urban places contain a lot of variables like cyclists, pedestrians, construction sites, double-parked trucks and more. Developing a reliable system that is smart and fast enough to adapt in a chaotic environment is something Nissan considered as a Herculean task.

But the automaker has already started its autonomous exploration and navigation, and NASA can piggyback on that development, since the space agency is also facing a similar challenge – operating vehicles in planets where sands, rocks and other obstacles are present. As the space agency plans to explore the universe deeper, autonomous rovers are a necessity.

Today, NASA and Nissan are starting their research and development with the hopes of creating that highly anticipated self-driving space car. Though there are still a lot to be done, they are optimistic that their partnership will yield to a technology that will amaze mankind.

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