Nissan will kick off self-driving Leaf EV taxi service test in March

Nissan is the latest automaker to make its autonomous vehicle testing intentions clear – it’ll begin a pilot of self-driving Nissan Leaf electric vehicles that can be hailed using a smartphone app much like an Uber or a Lyft, starting in March on Japanese roads.

This isn’t something Nissan is doing alone – it’s working with Japanese software maker DeNA to create the autonomous ride-hailing service. It’s also hoping to put a commercial fleet of Leafs into service by the early 2020s, per the Wall Street Journal.

That’s a more general timeframe than some of its competitors have offered up – and further out, too. GM and its subsidiary Cruise announced last week that they’d have a service ready to roll by 2019 based on their current progress, and Ford was among the earliest to set a deadline for its own service launch, pegging 2021 for an operating fleet.

Nissan will start with two Leaf vehicles modified with autonomous vehicle sensors and compute on roads, with staff actively monitoring pick up and drop-off locations, and an open application for participation in the test program available to the public.

One of the more interesting aspects of Nissan’s test is that users will be able to not only specify exactly where they want to go, but also use general written queries like “I want to eat pancakes” and have the car automatically choose a relevant destination, according to the WSJ. Building some degree of autonomous destination selection is a UX differentiator that could help Nissan set its service apart ahead of the launch of all of these competing services.