Nissan, NASA Extend Autonomous Fleet Management Partnership

Silicon Valley was a hub of innovation long before the days of Tesla, Facebook or eBay.The seeds of Silicon Valley’s reputation were planted by the universities and governmental research facilities that pre-dated “big tech” companies by a significant margin.

One such research facility was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) that was first established in 1939. When NASA was created in 1958, the NACA facility was renamed the Ames Research Center, or NASA Ames. Over its nearly 80 years of existence, NASA Ames has done important research on propeller-driven aircrafts, spaceflight technology, and information technology that have been incorporated on missions to space.

Today, NASA Ames remains on the cutting edge of technological research, and the fruits of that research are finding applications here on earth.

At CES, NASA and Nissan announced that they were extending a pre-existing agreement to jointly research and develop future autonomous mobility services. The companies also unveiled plans for a “working demonstration” of those services that will take place in Silicon Valley some time in the future.

The agreement between Nissan and NASA Ames was first established in 2015. It was originally framed as an umbrella deal that would allow for partnerships “in autonomous vehicle systems, robotics, human-machine interface, software analysis/verification and network-enabled applications.”

At CES 2017, the partners revealed their largest project to date: an autonomous driving platform fleet solution known as Seamless Autonomous Mobility, or SAM. According to Nissan and NASA said, SAM was built on some of the same technology that was used to operate the Mars Rover.

“This is not only a demonstration of the transfer of space technology to industry, but also the application of their research back to our space technology, with additional uses for our unmanned aircraft systems research. This is a perfect example of technology literally driving exploration and enabling future space missions,” NASA Ames director Eugene Tu said at the time.

The announcements were a little less concrete at this year’s event, but it was clear that Nissan hopes to have SAM on the road in the near future.

“We built SAM from technology NASA developed for managing interplanetary rovers as they move around unpredictable landscapes,” Maarten Sierhuis, director of the Nissan Research Center in Silicon Valley, wrote in a statement. “Our goal is to deploy SAM to help third-party organizations safely integrate a fleet of autonomous vehicles in unpredictable urban environments, for example ride-hailing services, public transportation or logistics and delivery services. The final stage of our existing research agreement with NASA will bring us closer to that goal and test SAM in a working demonstration on public streets.”

As the autonomous vehicle sector grows, most experts anticipate that autonomous ride-hailing services will slowly begin to replace personal vehicle ownership.

Thus, the mobility-as-a-service space figures to be quite crowded indeed. For Nissan, having the cachet of the NASA name attached to its product may help separate the automaker from its competitors.

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