NASA Teams Up with Nissan on Driverless Cars for Application to Mars Rover Technology
Driverless car technology may be coming to Mars. NASA has just joined forces with Japanese automobile company Nissan to help them develop their autonomous vehicles on Earth, in the hopes that they will be able to use the technology in their Mars rovers.
Self-driving cars have been on the horizon for quite a while now, with Google quickly advancing towards a commercial prototype and Innovate UK currently testing driverless cars in Britain. But NASA believes that the autonomous technology could have applications in their extraterrestrial vehicles, and so their Ames Research Center has signed a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with Nissan to research and develop the technology. According to the agreement, NASA will be repaid any money it spends on the project, while Nissan will have free use of NASA's facilities and personnel.
NASA will assist Nissan with the design, development, and testing stages of the project, and they hope to gain knowledge of autonomous technology to use on their rovers. NASA currently has autonomous rovers, but they are much smaller than cars, and as a result are more limited in their research capabilities than if NASA could find a way to develop larger autonomous vehicles.
"Actually, Curiosity is about the size of a Smart Car or Mini Cooper," said Terry Fong, leader of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames. "One of the current limitations on landing anything bigger is the size of heatshield required to get it through the atmosphere safely, but NASA Ames is working on concepts to for bigger heat shields, and therefore bigger rovers."
NASA is confident that the driverless car research will have a direct impact on the development of their Mars research instruments. Director of NASA Ames, S. Pete Worden, said, "All of our potential topics of research collaboration with Nissan are areas in which Ames has strongly contributed to major NASA programs. "Ames developed Mars rover planning software, robots on board the International Space Station and Next Generation air traffic management systems to name a few. We look forward to applying knowledge developed during this partnership toward future space and aeronautics endeavors."