Last year, Nissan made plenty of headlines when it unveiled an self-driving LEAF prototype, and said it hoped to put the technology showcased on the car into production by 2020.
However, that announcement should have come with an asterisk.
It seems a fully-autonomous Nissan won’t appear until sometime after 2020. In a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, CEO Carlos Ghosn outlined the launch timetable for the company’s “Autonomous Drive” technologies, which will give the machines plenty to do, but will still require a human driver.
According to Nissan’s press release, drivers “will still remain in control and ‘at the wheel'” in cars equipped with these autonomous features.
The first stage of Autonomous Drive implementation happens in 2016, when Nissan plans to launch a “traffic-jam pilot” that will allow cars to drive themselves on congested highways, and fully-automated parking across a wider range of vehicles.
In 2018, the carmaker will introduce multiple-lane controls, which will allow cars to autonomously change lanes to avoid obstacles, and technology that will allow cars to navigate intersections without any human input.
So while near-future Nissans will be able to drive themselves in many situations, they won’t be fully autonomous.
While it may disappoint people looking to watch cat videos on their morning commutes, it makes sense given what Nissan has done so far.
The carmaker originally said the self-driving prototype was doable in this timeframe because its systems were based on safety features that are already available on production cars. Perhaps Nissan is just stretching the rollout, gradually building a self-driving car by adding features one or two at a time.
This contrasts the all-or-nothing approach taken by Google, but it matches the plans of at least one other carmaker.
Tesla Motors plans to put a self-driving car on sale by 2016, but describes its system as an “autopilot” that only supplements a human driver.