Nissan Motors Japan has successfully introduced Intelligent Vehicle Towing (IVT), a fully-automated towing system at its Oppama production plant.

The IVT system uses a modified Nissan Leaf electric vehicle to autonomously tow trollies which carry finished cars between designated loading and unloading areas within the 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, kerbs 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 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 the case of emergency, the system can stop the vehicles remotely.

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. With the introduction of the IVT system, Nissan hopes to improve production efficiency.

Trial operations of the system began roughly a year ago and more than 1,600 test runs have been carried out at the plant. The data acquired has been utilised 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's continued testing at the Oppama Plant provides an effective testbed for further implementation at other manufacturing facilities both in and outside of Japan. This new project, which utilises mapping and communication technologies to link an intelligent, all-electric car to surrounding infrastructures and is a step towards realising Nissan’s Intelligent Integration aspirations.

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