It seems 2020 is shaping up to be the magic year for self-driving cars.
Nissan announced Tuesday that it'll have "multiple, commercially-viable Autonomous Drive vehicles by 2020," a deadline that General Motors and automotive supplier Continental also have set. Google, however, has set more ambitious goals for its autonomous-vehicle program: Google co-founder Sergey Brin predicted the arrival of self-driving cars for the general public by 2017.
Nissan said its autonomous-vehicle technology will be available "at realistic prices for consumers," and that its goal is to make the technology available "across the model range within two vehicle generations."
"I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it," Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said in a statement.
The company's approach involves laser scanners, "Around View" cameras, artificial intelligence, and actuators. As with Google's approach, Nissan is building the necessary smarts completely within the vehicle so that external data sources aren't required. Nissan has been working with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Tokyo on the approach.
The company also opened an autonomous-vehicle research center in Silicon Valley that eventually will employ a staff of 60.
Nissan has been testing its autonomous-driving technology in its Leaf electric vehicle, gearing it to handle complex, real-world situations. To test it, Nissan is building an autonomous-driving proving ground in Japan, complete with real-world features such as buildings. It's scheduled to be completed by the end of the company's fiscal year 2014.
Audi, Continental, and Google all have permission to test their autonomous vehicles on public roads in Nevada.
Disclosure: Stephen Shankland is married to a Renault-Nissan Alliance employee not involved with the self-driving car products.