In what it calls the world’s first experiment of its kind, Nissan Motor Co. on Monday tested a self-driving vehicle on a public expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture, with a view to marketing such vehicles by 2020.

During the test, the autonomous vehicle, based on a Leaf electric car, performed several maneuvers, such as switching lanes, overtaking and merging, according to Yoichi Kishimoto, general manager of the carmaker’s planning and advanced engineering development division.

During the public road test, carried out in cooperation with the prefecture, the vehicle carried officials on a 3.2-km section between Samukawa Minami and Samukawa Kita on the Sagami Expressway.

Nissan Motor Vice Chairman Toshiyuki Shiga said the public road test takes the development of the technology a step further. The Yokohama-based automaker plans to release vehicles featuring automated driving technology by 2020.

“There are many rear-end accidents on highways after drivers get sleepy on long-distance and monotonous drives,” Shiga said. “It is effective to conduct a road test on an expressway” to develop safe driving technology.

With seven cameras and six laser scanners, the self-driving vehicle has in effect a 360-degree field of vision.

After riding in the autonomous car with Shiga, Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa expressed admiration for the epoch-making technology.

“Even though the driver was in the seat, his hands were away from the steering wheel. Still, the car ran smoothly,” said Kuroiwa. “I really felt (automated driving technology) was a breakthrough and strongly hope to see the car on the market soon.”

The vehicle instantly switches to regular driving mode as soon as the driver puts his or her hands on the wheel.

Reporters also had an opportunity to ride in the vehicle on the expressway later in the day.

The Sagami Expressway runs through the Sagami Robot Industry Special Zone, where the prefecture aims to support companies developing robots for various purposes, including life assistance, medical care and disaster response. Nissan’s road test of the self-driving vehicle is one of the projects supported by the prefecture.

Nissan received a license plate for a car equipped with a highly advanced driver assist system in September, enabling the firm to conduct tests on public roads for the development of technology fundamental to automated driving.

Other domestic and foreign makers, including Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and General Motors Co., are also aiming to introduce automated driving technology.

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