Nissan is using technology from NASA's Mars Rover to direct self driving vehicle fleets

By Prasid Banerjee | Updated 5 Jun 2017
Nissan is using technology from NASA's Mars Rover to direct self driving vehicle fleets
  • A human will be able to direct self driving vehicles from a remote locations, to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

The Mars Rover was meant to...well… rove on Mars, but it does so with help from humans. Nissan thinks technology from this revolutionary probe can be used for autonomous vehicles on our toads. The company is reportedly using technology from NASA’s Mars Rover to control its autonomous vehicles. Nissan calls it the Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) technology and wants to use it for when vehicles meet unexpected situations.

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Handling unforeseen circumstances is a big challenge in autonomous vehicles, and indeed all machine learning endeavours. These systems are built by humans, so they’re inherently learning things that we can expect. Theoretically, such machines can learn how to manage unforeseen events over time, but they have to be put into practice for that. This means you’re essentially putting unfinished products out on the market.

"We want to reduce fatalities and ease congestion. We need a huge number of vehicles out there. What we are doing at Nissan is finding a way so that we can have this future transportation system not in 20 years or more, but now," said Maarten Sierhuis, former NASA scientist and director of the Nissan Research Center.

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Nissan announced its Intelligent Mobility plans at CES 2017. Credit: Nissan

"This is not only a demonstration of the transfer of space technology to industry, but also the application of their research back to our space technology, with additional uses for our unmanned aircraft systems research. This is a perfect example of technology literally driving exploration and enabling future space missions," said Eugene Tu, Center Director, NASA Ames Research Center.

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Like the Mars Rover, the SAM system allows a human “mobility manager” to look at data from the vehicle and sensors attached to it. When a vehicle encounters an unexpected situation, the human controller can direct the car to act in the required manner. Nissan gives the example of a police officer using hand signals. A self-driving vehicle will be unsure about taking the wrong way on a road, even if directed by a policeman. That’s because it has been programmed to follow the rules, no matter what.

In this case, the mobility manager, sitting at a different location, will be able to direct entire fleets of vehicles to act in the required manner. The human will be able to “paint” a route for the vehicle to take once it passes an obstruction, following which, it can resume driving autonomously. Over time, these vehicles will keep learning from their new experiences and start understanding situations themselves.

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Seamless Autonomous Mobility technology is an adaptation of NASA’s Virtual Environment for Remote virtual Exploration (VERVE) system. This is the technology used in the Mars rover etc. to supervise the robots from the Earth. Scientists at NASA use this technology to calculate the driving paths for the robots, on other planets.

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Prasid Banerjee
Trying to explain technology to my parents. Failing miserably.
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