Nissan announced a five-year partnership with NASA to build an autonomous vehicle system for use on Earth and on other planets on Friday, January 9th.

The initial goal for the partnership is to have an autonomous car — probably a modified zero-emission Nissan Leaf – driving on the road by the end of 2015.

Nissan Working With NASA To Develop Autonomous Vehicles

Auto manufacturers have been working on self-driving cars for a couple of decades now, and the technology is clearly reaching maturity. Audi let the public see its latest Prologue car at the Consumer Electronics Show and drove it on stage using a smartwatch, and Mercedes has a functional self-driving prototype vehicle with no windows (also made an appearance at CES).

More on the NASA  – Nissan partnership

Japanese and American engineers will work together at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. Coincidentally, Google’s autonomous vehicle testing facility is just a few miles away.

The japanese firm to have autonomous cars on the roads by 2020 , and a partnership with NASA will certainly help them get closer to their goal.

Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Nissan, noted that NASA has developed technology to produce highly durable and reliable interfaces between humans and machines. Nissan has already done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of research on autonomous navigation.

The ability to safely move around chaotic city streets, dodging pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles will be useful in building a rover to navigate the unknown and likely rough terrain of exo-planets.

Statement from Director of NASA’s Ames Research Lab

“The more we look at it, the more there are a lot of similarities there,” commented Pete Worden, the director of the Ames Research Center.

He added: “We have a rover on Mars. It is not very autonomous. As we go deeper into space, into more and more dangerous locations, we need to add that autonomy.”