TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Nissan is looking heavenward to develop autonomous driving systems.
The automaker is collaborating with NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration to develop Seamless Autonomous Mobility, or SAM, a driverless system that is monitored and augmented by human operators who help the vehicle interpret and adjust to traffic, weather and other conditions in real time.
"Show me an autonomous system without a human in the loop and I'll show you a useless system," Maarten Sierhuis, director of the Nissan Research Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., said Wednesday at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars.
Nissan is developing a technology in which the onboard autonomous system is always responsible for driving the vehicle.
A human operator, in a remote location, sends the vehicle commands or alternate routes to deal with construction and unexpected road situations.
To help its operators transmit information, Nissan uses robotic technology, communication systems and visualization software used by NASA to communicate with its Mars rovers.
To make SAM work, large amounts of video and sensor data must be transmitted in real time from the vehicle to the human operator in a command center, said Sierhuis, a former senior scientist with NASA, where he did research on human-robot interaction.
"You have to put a lot of data into a small pipe," Sierhuis said. "NASA is good at that."
Nissan also is tapping the technology and workflows that air traffic controllers use to manage thousands of aircraft simultaneously, to help human operators supervise large numbers of autonomous vehicles.
"The goal is to have the operator be able to manage as many vehicles as possible," Sierhuis said. "It's a scalable situation."
In addition to augmenting the driverless system, the human operators can provide customer service to passengers.