Nissan Leaf hatchbacks are being used as self-driving tow trucks at the company’s factory in Oppama, Japan.
These specially developed EVs are part of the plant’s trial Intelligent Vehicle Towing (IVT) system, which tows trollies of finished cars from the end of the assembly line to the factory’s integrated port.
Unlike regular automated delivery systems, the IVT setup doesn’t require special physical infrastructure, such magnetic tape or rails, to function. Instead, each car in the fleet is fitted with an array of cameras and laser scanners that can see and detect lane markings, curbs, cars, people and other objects.
There’s also an on-board map and a predefined driving route, which can be easily changed as variations in the plant’s production and transportation needs dictate
The fleet of autonomous Leafs are connected to a central traffic monitoring system, which keeps track of the location of each self-driving tow car, their speed, status, and remaining battery. It also handles which autonomous vehicle should give way if two should meet at an intersection.
According to Nissan, the company has been trialling the IVT setup for around a year now, and around 1600 test runs have been carried out. Although Nissan has yet to commit to anything concrete beyond continuing its tests in Oppama, the company “will examine the possibility” of rolling out the IVT system to other factories, both inside and outside of Japan.
Data and knowledge gained from this experiment will reportedly be used as Nissan refines self-driving technologies for commercial roll-out.
In July, Nissan launched its ProPilot self-driving system in Japan in the new Serena people mover. This first generation system is pretty limited in its capabilities, as can only steer itself within one highway lane.
Nissan says that it will launch a more sophisticated multi-lane system in 2018, and one capable of negotiating intersections in 2020.