NASA and Nissan just announced a five-year partnership in the development of a self-driving car that will not only tackle city streets but also alien planets. Most of the research will take place in Silicon Valley, where both organizations already have research facilities. And believe it or not, NASA wants to learn from Nissan.
Obviously, NASA is a major leader in technological innovation, so much so that they've been steering rovers around the surface of Mars for years. However, Nissan has a leg up on them in terms of autonomous driving, a capability that NASA is quite interested in. "We have a rover on Mars. It is not very autonomous," Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center, told Wired. "As we go deeper into space, into more and more dangerous locations, we need to add that autonomy." And they'll be experimenting with Nissan Leafs to do so.
You might be wondering why NASA didn't decide to work with that other company working on self-driving cars in Silicon Valley right now: Google. After all, Google recently secured a 60-year lease on a hangar and air field that belongs to NASA Aimes Research Center, the same center that's working directly with Nissan's Silicon Valley research center. It's not like the two aren't friendly.
It's hard to tell. However, it's worth highlighting how Nissan is taking a pretty different approach to the self-driving challenge than Google is. Whereas Google's been working hard on building its own, bumper-to-bumper self-driving prototype, Nissan wants to make self-driving cars a cheap upgrade to their existing cars by 2020. As NASA says, they want to add autonomy to their space vehicles. It makes perfect sense that they'd pick the company that's developing add-on self-driving capabilities.