Under its Intelligent Mobility vision, Nissan announced recently that it is testing Intelligent Vehicle Towing (IVT), a fully automated vehicle towing system that allows a modified LEAF to autonomously tow trollies carrying finished vehicles between designated loading and unloading points at the plant.
Unlike conventional automatic guided vehicle systems for transporting parts, which often demand installing rails or extensive use of magnetic tape, this new system works with the help of electric Nissan Leaf with integrated autonomous driving technologies that are being tested in the rather predictable environment of their Japan-based plant.
The towing Leaf is equipped with an array of cameras and laser scanners that detect lane markings, curbs and potential obstacles. The car's system cross-references this information with map data and calculates its own location – this allows the car to finds its way to selected destination completely unaided. It travels within the speed limits and, if an obstacle on the road is detected, automatically stops. Once it establishes that the road ahead is clear and safe to drive, the car sets off again.
Operators in the plant can easily alter and adapt the towing route, depending on changes in production processes or vehicle transport routes. All driverless towing cars are connected to a central traffic control system. It allows operators to monitor the location, driving speed, remaining battery and operational status of each and every vehicle. Should two driverless towing cars meet at an intersection, the control system's algorithm can determine which car will proceed first, while in case of emergency, both vehicles are remotely stopped.
Since Oppama plant started trial operations of autonomous towing cars about a year ago, more than 1,600 test runs have been carried out at the facility. Conducted tests provided Nissan with valuable data that will be used to further develop the brand's autonomous driving systems. Based on this data, engineers have also perfected the car's safety system and a fail-safe system to deal with potentital risks or unexpected conditions. Furthermore, they also gained experience in autonomous driving in adverse weather and low light conditions.