If autonomous cars are to be made available in the UK, car makers first need their vehicles to do hard miles on domestic roads. Nissan knows this, so today it confirmed that it will deploy a fleet of LEAF vehicles in London next month, giving it the opportunity to publicly test its autonomous drive technology for the first time in Europe.
Nissan says that while it hasn’t yet finalised the routes its cars will take, they “will be public roads with full agreement from the relevant local authorities.” The government, which has already spent millions funding intelligent car trials, supports the pilot, noting that such trials will help the UK become “a world leader in the development and testing of auto technology.”
It’s not the first time Nissan has demonstrated its self-driving capabilities on public roads. The first tests began in Tokyo in October 2015, expanding to Silicon Valley in January 2016. Just before CES, Nissan’s CEO rode in an autonomous Infiniti Q50 sedan to show off how far along its technology has come. It’s also not the first time a self-driving car has hit Britain’s roads — the “Lutz Pathfinder” pod has that claim to fame — but Nissan’s tests will mark the first of many UK tests major car makers will conduct in 2017.
Not long ago, Nissan looked like it would pull its manufacturing operation from the UK following the Brexit vote. However, a new deal saw the car maker commit to its Sunderland plant, which will help build the new autonomous Nissan Leaf and Qashqai models.
The UK government is also in the process of developing new laws to govern the use of driverless cars on Britain’s roads. Current laws dictate that a human driver will need to sit behind the steering wheel while the LEAF does its thing, helping collect the data it needs to be ready for when it can go it alone.