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Powered by electrification, intelligence and technology, Nissan looks to transform the future of mobility and cities, and to enhance our daily lives.

28 Mar 2019

Imagining the future can be at once exciting yet terrifying - with the accelerative growth of technology and the power of unlimited imagination, the future holds endless promise with ability to enhance and augment our lives. But with such advancement comes a whole set of questions. What does the future hold for cars? What will our cities look like? How will mobility change the way we commute? Where is our place in this increasingly digitised world?

The Nissan Futures event highlighted the many ways in which new technologies and solutions will transform our lives
Most of us must be fully aware of the keen focus on electrification, Electric Vehicles (EV) and Autonomous Vehicles (AV) - key buzzwords floating around the industry these days. Organised over the Formula E weekend in Hong Kong, the Nissan Futures conference was an opportunity for the brand to outline its vision of the future, what Nissan Intelligent Mobility will do for us, and how our lives beyond cars could very well change as well.

The future of e-mobility

Nissan Intelligent Mobility outlines some of the key tangible outputs for the brand in the near future. There are three key pillars - Nissan Intelligent Power, Nissan Intelligent Driving, and Nissan Intelligent Integration.

The new second generation Nissan Leaf highlights the brand's commitment to clean and efficient performance
The first pillar focuses on clean and efficient performance as espoused by the Nissan Leaf, as well as Nissan's e-Power technology. It will see the continued roll out of electrified vehicles across the region, spearheaded by the regional launch of the second generation Leaf. By 2022, a quarter of all Nissan vehicles sold in Asia will be electrified. Additionally, electrification components will be assembled locally in key Southeast Asian markets, as a means of bringing down the cost of EVs, as well as to enhance education and collaboration.

The second pillar, Nissan Intelligent Driving, focuses on safety technologies, headlined by the brand's ProPilot technologies. Presently designed for highway use, the semi-autonomous ProPilot systems is capable of assisting the driver in maintaining speed and distance according to other vehicles on the road, as well as to effect steering control. Moving forward, these systems will continue to be developed and refined to allow higher levels of autonomy.

V2H technology is capable of powering homes and reducing our carbon impact
Nissan Intelligent Integration explores the ways in which the car is connected to our larger lives, such as the car's interactivity with other digital systems like your smartphone or home. One system Nissan is already trialling is Vehicle-to-Home (V2H) charging. As the Leaf supports bi-directional charging, it can be used to store excess electricity that can be then used to power homes. Nicholas Thomas, Global Director, Electric Vehicles Division, envisions a future where fleets of Leafs can serve as mobile power storage units, playing a bigger part in our transition towards renewable energy. The car then becomes an energy asset, used as a mobile energy unit capable of supplying power back into the grid.

With Nissan's developments in the area of electrification technology, it's clear that the future of e-mobility will be smarter, safer and more sustainable.

By looking at the vehicle as an energy asset, we can radically change the way we consume energy
Smarter drivers, smarter cars

While it's clear that Nissan is focusing on continuing to develop its e-mobility offerings, the future of mobility extends beyond just electric cars. Of course, AVs and self-driving technologies are areas being explored by Nissan as well.

It’s tempting to imagine a future where fully autonomous driverless cars will zip around on our roads ferrying us from place to place, but the reality is that that future is still quite some way away. Part of this is cost - one key inhibiting factor is the cost of sensors, right now too high to practically develop consumer vehicles.

The SAM network will be capable of monitoring and coordinating a fleet of autonomous vehicles
Another major limitation is infrastructure, legislation and scope. Necessary technology for a self-driving car is already present. However, having it on the road requires it to respond naturally, safely and responsibly to external circumstances. To have a highly functional and fully developed autonomous vehicle network requires a fair amount of control, regulation and order, to be able to deal with all the other roads users and external factors present.

Thus, the next advent of autonomy will likely take the form of service-based, on-demand vehicles, such as robo-taxis and delivery services. According to Dr. Maarten Sierhuis, Chief Technology Director, Nissan Research Centre, "I think the market is more towards services like robo-taxis and delivery vehicles, where the cost of the vehicle can we written off over many years." Additionally, such vehicles can be geo-fenced, thus controlled and limited to a specific area with known constraints and identified hurdles.

With a human-in-the-loop, complex decision-mkaing can be achieved to allow autonomous vehicles to overcome unconventional obstacles
Control of such autonomous vehicle networks will be facilitated by what Nissan calls its Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) network. This involves what Dr. Sierhuis calls a human-in-the-loop system. A single operator will overlook a group of vehicles, and will step in to make necessary decisions when the vehicle encounters situations beyond its intelligence threshold. Think of it like a road-based version of an air traffic controller, monitoring the situation and providing inputs when necessary.

As Dr. Sierhuis tells us, "SAM is a cloud based platform that lets us communicate bilaterally with the vehicle and the cloud, as well as the human in the loop. We are working on how to integrate that cloud with traffic management systems, and to optimise in a bi-directional way." The key is to develop a distributed artificial intelligence system and a tiered decision-making hierarchy - intelligence in the vehicle, intelligence in the cloud, and intelligence in the human-in-the-loop.

Dr. Sierhuis believes that the integration of human intelligence is key to the future success of autonomous vehicles
While it may seem to run counter to conventional notions of artifical intelligence, Dr. Sierhuis believes that this is the most reasonable way forward. The car will still be responsible for all its normal autonmous driving functions, such as keeping in lane, lane changes and directional navigation. Having human intelligence allows for natural decision-making a fully autonomous car would otherwise be unable to do in unconventional circumstances, such as crossing a double white line and going against traffic to drive around a large obstacle like road works. "Show me an autonomous system without a human-in-the-loop and I'll show you a useless system," he says. 

Tapping onto infrastructure can be one of the means of overcoming hardware limitations
Additionally, infrastructure such as traffic management systems can be used to augment the SAM system. As part of his work at the Nissan Research Centre, Dr. Sierhuis is also looking at how new software, such as tapping onto existing infrastructure including traffic cameras and satellite systems, can be used to compensate for hardware limitations. "How can we develop AV software and system that don’t have to rely on such high cost sensors? One key idea is infrastructure - I don't care where the information is coming from, as long as the vehicle is getting the right information," he says.

Ultimately, he believes that some level of human intelligence will always be necessary, as these machines have to be able to interact naturally with other humans. This can then bring about socially acceptable autonomy, assuaging concerns of a Skynet-like digital apocalypse.   

Understanding the unique challenges of each city is the key to developing the right policies, infrstructure and solutions
Cities of tomorrow

However, cars don't exist in a vacuum. They exists on roads, in cities, and alongside the vast variety of other city elements, transportation and otherwise. And it is estimated that by 2050, two out of three people globally will be living in cities. Therefore, it is important to understand the context that these technologies exist within.

Here, it is important to note that while technology can offer all manner of innovative solutions, these solutions cannot exist in isolation. According to Dr. Sierhuis, "When we talk about driverless vehicles, the human-in-the-loop factor, understanding the cultural differences in how people react and each cities unique requirements is key. In every region, we have to tune the respective systems according to the region." So while the brand's Research Centre develops a unified global architecture, these global solutions will ultimately still require localised implementation and execution.

Industry experts came together to discuss the challenges cities face in the future
Cities also possess key infrastructure that will aid the development and integration of AVs. Places like Silicon Valley and Singapore are already actively testing AVs on public roads. Also, infrastructure such as traffic management systems will be required, not just to integrate with vehicle networks, but to aid the operation of AVs as well.

Frost & Sullivan's Smart Mobility City Tracker study examined 100 different cities and their smart mobility initiatives. Using more than 150 data points, it explores the feasibility of integrating new mobility solutions and future technologies. The study also highlights the disparity in context across different cities, which then lends themselves to different solutions. While there are obvious global problems and challenges all cities face (emissions, congestion and accidents), each city requires local solutions, thus developing their own policies, initiatives and infrastructure.

Panellists discuss how new mobility solutions will change the way people move around, as well as the way cities are shaped 
Singapore presents an interesting and unique opportunity. Using a complex index system, the study ranked Singapore number one globally. With our strong digital architecture and policies, as well as high modal share of public transport, Singapore is the city most primed for deploying modern solutions, enabling a transition towards a smarter and greener mobility infrastructure. Thus, we should expect Singapore to be at the forefront of pioneering AV research and development. 

Our smarter lives

Ultimately, modern mobility solutions will have a far greater impact than just changing the way we view and use cars. These changes can significantly affect the way we live and the way we interact with the world. 

The transformation of mobility solutions and cities will hinge on the ability to provide human-centric solutions
Even as cities continue to get bigger and older, the Nissan Futures panel discussions focused on examining how all the various stakeholders - manufacturers, legislators, business owners - can come together to create seamless ecosystems to solve citizens' problems. Importantly, cities shouldn't get in the way of us conducting our lives. 

Ultimately, the key takeaway from the Nissan Futures 2019 is that as imaginative yet daunting as technology can be, its successful implementation and integration into our lives is contingent on its human-centric nature. Humans will still form the centre of car and future technology interactions, and the ability to negotiate the human element in technology holds the key to transforming mobility and our cities.
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