Nissan has presented a driverless towing system currently in use today at its Oppama Plant in Japan, utilizing a LEAF with an array of cameras and laser scanners that detect lane markings, curbs and potential obstacles or hazards around the vehicle.

The prototype of a fully automated vehicle towing system Intelligent Vehicle Towing (IVT) was tested for roughly a year and already covered over 1,600 runs.

A single automated LEAF can tow up to three cars between loading and unloading points inside the plant. The workers are still needed to drive in and out.

As the IVT matured, Nissan now is considering to use driveless towing in other plants.

Editor's Note:  Further to this technology, and how it will be applied to actual mainstream cars, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is heading to Las Vegas on January 5th to give a keynote speech on exactly this topic for the opening of CES...and maybe bringing along some new electrified products to show both in Vegas, and a few days later at the opening of the NAIAS in Detroit.

About the technology

The IVT system uses a modified Nissan LEAF to autonomously tow trollies carrying finished vehicles between designated loading and unloading points at the plant.

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

Unlike conventional automatic guided vehicle systems for transporting parts, which often require the installation of rails or extensive use of magnetic tape, this system does not need any special infrastructure to operate. The towing car is equipped with an array of cameras and laser scanners that detect lane markings, curbs and potential obstacles or hazards around the vehicle. By cross-referencing this information with map data, 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.

The towing route can easily be altered to accommodate changes in production processes or vehicle transport routes. All driverless towing cars are connected to a central traffic control system, which can monitor the location, driving speed, remaining battery and operational status of each vehicle. When two driverless towing cars meet at an intersection, the control system’s algorithm determines which car should be given right-of-way, and in case of emergency, the system can stop the vehicles remotely.

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

Background of development

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

The Oppama Plant’s existing logistics system requires finished vehicles to be transported from the end of the production line to the facility’s dedicated wharf by a team of drivers, at which point they are loaded onto ships. Introducing IVT will allow Nissan to improve production efficiency.

Since trial operations of the system began roughly a year ago, more than 1,600 test runs have been carried out at the plant. The data acquired has been utilized to ensure that the system can operate reliably within the plant’s premises. A safety system and a fail-safe system have been developed to counter potential risks or unexpected conditions the IVT system may face during autonomous driving, including adverse weather and low light conditions. Nissan will continue to test the system at its Oppama Plant, and will examine the possibility of implementation at other manufacturing facilities both in and outside Japan.

Nissan has been developing autonomous driving technology for decades. In August, the company launched ProPILOT, an award-winning single-lane autonomous driving technology for highway use. IVT further showcases Nissan’s holistic approach to mobility, expanding the advantages of driverless technologies beyond personal usage.

The data and know-how obtained through this project will help to enable broader adoption of autonomous driving technology, in order to provide new solutions to our customers, and to our society.

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

Nissan introduces driverless towing system at Oppama Plant

Hat tip to wordoflife!