An Insider’s Look at the Autonomous Nissan Leaf

Nissan announced on Tuesday that they currently have functioning leaf-based test mules for Autonomous drive vehicles, and that salable units will be ready by the year 2020. So how does it all work? You may notice some not-so-subtle changes in the exterior of the Leaf.

The short answer is: a lot of cameras and sensors. A whopping 12 sonar sensors (6 front, 6 rear), in fact. 5 Total cameras: 1 forward facing around the rear-view mirror, 1 forward facing under the front Nissan “chrome hamburger” badge, 1 in each side view mirror, and one on the rear hatch. 5 Laser scanners (the black boxes you see on the exterior), and 1 long range radar transmitter/receiver similar to current production units used for adaptive cruise control. The entire rear hatch area is also full of cables and computers to process all the data.

Exterior fit and finish was surprisingly well executed and impressive for a prototype vehicle. With the exception of the somewhat large and out of place looking side-facing laser scanners on the rear doors, the exterior appeared production-ready. The rear-facing laser scanner also presented a problem, as it would be covered/blocked by a standard U.S. license plate. The engineers I spoke with assured me that as the technology develops, the sensors would shrink and become less noticeable, and that these early phases are more about getting the vehicle’s driving logic sorted out.

Also worth mentioning is the standard Leaf’s Bridgestone 205/55/16 Ecopia tires were replaced with high performance Bridgestone Potenza S001 summer tires as an added safety precaution, as well as to deal with repeated “panic maneuver” demonstrations on El Toro’s hot abrasive track surface.

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