Nissan’s Autonomous LEAF Granted License for Public Roads in Japan

By · September 26, 2013

Nissan’s goal of producing an autonomous car by 2020 took one step forward today when a Nissan LEAF fitted with is prototype Advanced Driver Assistance System was granted a license plate allowing it to drive on public roads.

From a distance, the silver Nissan LEAF—the first ever car fitted with autonomous driving equipment to be allowed on Japanese roads—looks just like any other production Nissan LEAF. Look a little closer, and sensors underneath the charge port door, on each rear door, and on the corner of each bumper hint that this car is not a conventional car of any kind. See a detailed report from's Brad Berman on the use of lasers in the autonomous LEAF.

In a press release accompanying the news, Takao Asami, senior vice president of research and development at Nissan was keen to highlight this particular milestone for autonomous vehicles. “This is a very important step for Nissan to proceed to the age of Autonomous Driving,” he said. “This car features the so-called ‘Advanced Driver Assistance System’ with next-generation features, so it is very important for us to have this vehicle to try our technologies in the field.”

Much like Google’s self-driving car, the LEAF won’t be making trips on its own any time soon. Instead, Nissan engineers will be using the car to evaluate how its in-house autonomous driving software performs in the real-world, using its time on the public highway to refine the car’s software to better prepare it for a future of fully-automated driving.

With drive-by-wire electronics and sophisticated computer systems already on board, electric cars like the Nissan LEAF are particularly well-suited to becoming autonomous vehicle test-beds. Nissan engineers believe that electric powertrains are more refined, and better suited to autonomous driving. In addition to Nissan’s own self-driving program, a team of engineers at the University of Oxford in England have been working on their own robotic car project, also using the Nissan LEAF as a platform.

But don’t assume that you’ll be getting a self-driving car any time soon. While Nissan and other automakers, including Tesla, exhibit confident of producing technically capable self-driving or semi-autonomous cars by 2020, many legislative hurdles remain on both a state and federal level. The laws, as well as general social acceptance, must be resolved before autonomous electric cars are made available to everyday consumers.

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