Japan loves symbolism and loves to lay it on thick. There is nothing subtle about the country when it tries to establishing an image. When autonomous cars start to hit the road, don’t be surprised to read stories about the government handing out “driver’s licenses” to cars as a symbol of safety, just as it did recently.
The Nissan LEAF has received the first driver’s license ever given to a car and not a human being. Nissan wants to put the vehicle on the market by 2020 and is using the driver’s license as motivation to push the technology faster than expected.
The license give free reign to the Nissan LEAF prototype to drive on the streets of Japan, a country not exactly know for spacious roads or flat surfaces. Audi, Volvo and Google autonomous cars have been given permits and are restricted to certain areas, but the Nissan LEAF can drive wherever it feels. Japan’s bumpy mountain roads, busy narrow streets, and tight alleys might be the best place to guarantee the cars safety.
My only question is how did Nissan get the car a license? Anyone in Japan, Japanese or foreign, can tell you how challenging it is to get a license here. Did Nissan have to pay the $3,000 bill for driving school, make the car sit through three to five weeks of lessons, and have the car fail the driving test five times before finally passing? Or did the Japanese DMV just give it the go ahead?