At the 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn talked about Nissan’s approach to the future of transportation, outlining four key areas that must be addressed by automakers: Electric cars, self-driving cars, autonomy, and applications.

As an automaker with the largest industry plant in the US, located in Tennessee, and with 10% market share,

Nissan is poised to have a big impact by addressing these key points in driving innovation. And its forthcoming Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) brings something new to the autonomous driving conversation, as well: Human operators.

Announced by Ghosn at CES 2017, SAM will match up an AI platform with a human who can manage the drive from a call center. It’s kind of like what happens at a traffic control center, in order to regain control of the car when it ends up in a complex driving situation or an accident–and every time the human takes control, the AI system becomes smarter.

Using Visual Environment for Remote Virtual Exploration (VERVE) software, SAM takes advantage of Nissan’s collaboration with NASA. At CES 2017, Nissan also announced that it will begin testing autonomous cars with DeNA, a company in Japan.

SEE: ‘AI as co-pilot’: The state of autonomous driving, from the auto world’s headquarters in Detroit (TechRepublic)

At NAIAS, Ghosn stressed the importance of partnerships. “The story of 2017 will be business disruption, and the future depends on how well we interact with partners. We must work alongside startups, tech companies, and government regulators,” he said. “These types of partnerships will be critical.”

Additionally, customer needs and concerns are of the utmost importance, Ghosn said. Self-driving cars must be attractive, comfortable, and, above all, safe. In terms of self-driving tech, Ghosn says it that moving it to mass consumers will take four years. But much of this timeline depends on the readiness of customers and regulators, on top of tech advances. “When do customers want it?” he asked.

It is also important to distinguish that autonomous transportation, said Ghosn, is when the driver decides when to drive–“it is not completely driverless.”

SEE: CNET Roadshow’s full coverage of the Detroit Auto Show (NAIAS)

Still, there are some hurdles that must be passed before reaching full autonomy.

“There is a lot of work to do between today and a vehicle that is truly safe to operate in urban environments with no human test engineer,” said Michael Ramsey, autonomous vehicle analyst at Gartner Research. “This is demonstrated by Nissan’s news. It plans on incorporating a sort of traffic control engineer to get these cars out of sticky situations.”

Ramsey also wonders if this kind of control center will make financial sense.

And Alexander Wyglinski, associate professor in engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, pointed out that Ghosn did not address connected vehicles, which he sees as “one of those core technologies that would facilitate reliable and safer self-driving cars in the future by giving them beyond-line-of-sight situational awareness on the road.” In fact, the US DOT recently proposed a mandate for V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) connectivity, which it said would go a long way in making roads safer.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn addressed four key areas for innovation in vehicle technology: Electric cars, self-driving cars, autonomy, and applications.
  2. Ghosn stressed the importance of partnerships, saying that “the story of 2017 will be business disruption, and the future depends on how well we interact with partners. We must work alongside startups, tech companies, and government regulators.”
  3. Nissan recently introduced a plan for Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM), which would incorporate a “traffic control engineer” into its plan for autonomous vehicle development, helping drivers navigate difficult situations. The kind of integration will also be an important element for smart cities as autonomous vehicles become more popular.