NO LIST of the most mundane aspects of driving would be complete without including towing a caravan. But help is at hand, after Nissan revealed details of new, autonomous driving technology which means the average family car could tow a caravan or trailer without any input from the driver.
Called Intelligent Vehicle Towing (IVT), the system has been developed and tested for use at Nissan’s Oppama factory, south of Tokyo. The Japanese car maker reports that after one year of tests, involving over 1,600 runs, the self-driving tow cars have recorded a clean score card, with no accidents.
Using a fleet of Leaf electric cars, which are fitted with the same cameras and laser scanners that will enable cars to drive themselves, a train of trailers carrying newly built Juke and Leaf models is towed from one point of the factory to another without a driver’s input.
And unlike existing autonomous towing vehicles that are often used at car plants, no changes are required to the infrastructure, such as fitting rails or magnetic tape to map a route that a vehicle should take.
The learnings from the programme will be applied to Nissan’s development of self-driving car technology. And it means that the tedium of towing could be banished once cars are capable of driving themselves.
Nissan says the camera and laser information is paired with map data, “and the towing car calculates its own location, negotiating the route to its destination unaided. The towing car travels within the speed limits of the factory, and automatically stops if it detects an obstacle or hazard ahead, before setting off again when it has determined that the road ahead is clear.”
A Nissan spokesman told Driving that Nissan introduces new technology to its showroom models “once it becomes accessible and affordable for its customers.” By 2018, Nissans will be able to drive themselves on motorways and by 2020, the company has set itself the objective of making cars that are capable of driving themselves around town or across country.
Many manufacturers already offer technology that will take care of reversing a trailer or caravan for the driver. But Nissan’s Intelligent Vehicle Towing is a more meaningful glimpse of things to come.