Who Knew? – NASA Technology Guiding Driverless Earth Vehicles

Nissan autonomous vehicle technology is getting a boost from out of this world. The same type of software and artificial intelligence used for missions on Mars are being put to the test in Nissan vehicles here on earth.

Dr. Maarten Sierhuis, head of Nissan Research Center in Silicon Valley is applying his years of experience with NASA to lead multiple teams of researchers working on autonomous and connected vehicles. Building intelligent robots to work on Mars is similar to building a robot of Earth that drives 80 miles an hour very close to other robots.

Trick is building a vehicle system that not only knows what to do itself, but also its relationship with others on the road. Understanding how to deal with pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and animals play an important role in Nissan’s quest for zero fatalities and zero emissions.

Nissan realized in the mid-2000’s that if they were going to be serious about building autonomous vehicle technology they to needed to have a place in Silicon Valley where many artificial intelligence researchers from around the world had gathered. They set up a very close collaboration with nearby NASA and other firms to pool talent.


Connecting systems is key to the future of autonomous vehicles. Ability to communicate with global positioning, other vehicles, and traffic information will be vital. Even with all this there will be situations that an autonomous vehicle will need human input. Artificial intelligence systems will not always have all the answers.


Nissan’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) system hopes to help with this. Developed from NASA technology, SAM partners in-vehicle artificial intelligence (AI) with human support to help autonomous vehicles make decisions in unpredictable situations. Providing a human staffed command center similar to mission control or an air traffic control tower, an external operator can tell the vehicle what to do. It in turn updates it’s AI software to learn what to do in the future and also transmits that knowledge to other vehicles.


With the end goal of totally autonomous vehicles, SAM is an interim step to aid in the development of the necessary systems to get there. At times we all need someone to fall back on.

Who Knew? – Lessons from Mars helping autonomous vehicles here on Earth.

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