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New Nissan Research Center will Develop Autonomous Vehicle Technology
An interview with Dr. Maarten Sierhuis reveals his intentions for the center
By Robotics Trends' News Sources - Filed Feb 28, 2013

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With a new office in Silicon Valley, Maarten Sierhuis, Ph.D., says that cars are the future and he now has an opportunity to change the world.
Recently appointed to head the Nissan Research Center Silicon Valley, Sierhuis is a recognized expert in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). His team’s efforts will concentrate in the areas of autonomous driving and connected vehicle systems.
“The autonomous vehicle is coming. People have different predictions on whether it will be five years or 10 years. I think it is going to be sooner than we think. We will start with having autonomous cars driving on the highways but soon we will have autonomous trucks and transportation systems. Once we start in that direction of having autonomous vehicles be part of our highway complex, cities and people will change. People will demand it more and more,” said Sierhuis.
Q1: How does it feel to be with Nissan Motor Company, Ltd., in this new research center, in Silicon Valley?
Dr. Sierhuis: For me, cars are the next frontier in society. It is going to change the way we live, what we do, how we do things. For me this is an opportunity to change the world and this is something that I have been interested in doing, as a researcher, for a long time. Working at NASA we always thought about where we could go and nothingwas too bold. I think that to apply this to society and create a difference in the way we transport ourselves is just incredibly exciting. That is why I decided to come and join and make this a reality.
Q2: How will your previous professional experience support development of a self-driving car?
Dr. Sierhuis: My expertise is not only in building AI (artificial intelligence) systems, but also in building human-centered AI systems, looking at how people really do things inpractice and how they work. And bring that together with humans and systems and make it a seamless interaction. That is where my expertise is and what I can bring to autonomous driving. Not only from the AI perspective but also from the human perspective.
Q3: Who might benefit the most from autonomous cars?
Dr. Sierhuis: You can look at it narrowly; of course, the elderly, people with handicaps. Those are the immediate benefits that you think about. But if you look at it broadly,society will change. Not only from the perspective of the individual driving autonomously and being able to do stuff in the car that he or she was not able to do before and was just doing that at home.
But we can look at it from a societal perspective in terms of designing cities, transportation as a whole will change. And these are aspects that we are not immediately thinking about. How it will change how we live, where we live and how we will interact as a society. City planning and transportation inside of cities are things that will be changing. So,who will benefit is everybody.
We will have in the future more and more people will be able to use cars. People now who cannot afford cars will be able to afford cars because we can share cars more easily.And so a community could have a couple of cars to help people be transported where today those individuals will not have the ability.
Q4: Besides self-driving cars, what else will happen at the Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley?
Dr. Sierhuis: We want to take a holistic approach at this centre. That means that, yes, the technology for allowing the car to drive by itself, the artificial intelligence technology, is definitely what we will research here.
We will also research about what services can we provide, for people inside and outside of the car. How can an electric vehicle be used when it comes home and you can connect to your house? We will also look at the impact in society and think about what can we change and what needs to be changed.
Then I think an important aspect is privacy and security. As we have connected cars, we will have a lot of private data, a lot of information that is available. How do we make sure that is secure and people can feel that their privacy in some sense remains theirs? That’s not only in autonomous cars it is right now very important in the whole World Wide Web and the Internet. It becomes more and more a topic of research when you think about connecting our cars to each other and everywhere.
Q5: What’s the benefit to this office location?
Dr. Sierhuis: Silicon Valley is where innovation happens. It’s a very exciting place and has a can- do attitude. To be part of that and setting up collaborations with new entrepreneurs and new businesses. To help and shape that together is a very important aspect. The other thing is that in Silicon Valley we have a lot of good universities and research labs that we can collaborate with. We hope to be an open center and have collaborations with the Silicon Valley attitude and spirit.
Q6: Is Nissan Motor Company a leader when it comes to innovative technology and working to develop a self-driving car?
Dr. Sierhuis: Nissan has shown to take innovation and mass produce it. The electric vehicle and the now intelligent systems that are coming out in the new Infiniti vehicles, thatalready have some autonomous aspects in them, and being mass produced. This is where Nissan is leading. Nissan is well positioned to take the next step and be a leader in autonomous driving and connected vehicles and that is very exciting.
Q7: What do you predict roads and cars will look like 10 years from now?
Dr. Sierhuis: One thing I think for sure is that the autonomous vehicle is coming. People have different predictions on whether it will be five years or 10 years. I think it is going to be sooner than we think. We will start with having autonomous cars driving on the highways but soon we will have autonomous trucks and transportation systems. Once we start in that direction of having autonomous vehicles be part of our highway complex, cities and people will change. People will demand it more and more. Who doesn’t want to be able to be reading his email in the car or watching the news show he was watching when he came from home? So I think it will be soon and especially here in Silicon Valley, the early adopters will try things and we will see a jump made very quickly.

 


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