NASA and Nissan team up to create future robot space vehicles

9 Jan 2015

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Image via NASA

Under a new five-year partnership, US space agency NASA and car-maker Nissan will be aiming to have autonomous robotic vehicles traversing the surfaces of planets and moons, as well as here on Earth.

Beginning their research much closer to home in Silicon Valley at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, NASA will start testing their systems using a modified version of the Nissan Leaf, the Japanese manufacturer’s most commercially successful electric car.

The aim in the short-term is to develop more advanced versions of autonomous vehicles that could be able to handle any terrain compared with current systems being developed by internet search giant Google and others that are still trying to perfect driving on roadways.

According to Wired, Nissan has made assurances that it aims to have autonomous cars driving on our streets by 2020. The company has also welcomed the chance to work with NASA to progress this technology, particularly given NASA’s experience in handling robotic rovers, such as Curiosity on Mars and a moon rover.

With plans to have their first dedicated autonomous car on the roads of Silicon Valley by the end of this year, NASA and Nissan’s first task is to work on Nissan’s mapping systems, used to allow the car to navigate its way past obstacles.

Speaking of Nissan’s contribution to the project, Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, said the company has much to contribute.

“The more we look at it, the more there are a lot of similarities there. We have a rover on Mars. It is not very autonomous. As we go deeper into space, into more and more dangerous locations, we need to add that autonomy.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic