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Nissan's autonomous Leaf prototype is a million-dollar hands-off EV (pictures)

Nissan has pledged to sell a fully autonomous car by 2020. This Leaf prototype readily shows how close the automaker is getting to its goal.

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Chris Paukert

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Without those splashy graphics, you might not realize you're looking at anything other than an ordinary Nissan Leaf.

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Note the production-look rear lidar sensor (laser and radar technology used to measure distances) centered at the bottom of the rear bumper cap.

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Hands cupped a few inches from the steering wheel is the preferred way to drive this prototype autonomous car, but bona fide hands-free operation is coming.

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This is the view from the driver's seat.

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Cameras are discreetly mounted in the Leaf's roof rails.

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Nissan has begun testing its Piloted Drive 1.0 in Tokyo traffic, and I was among its first passengers.

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Note the forward-scanning sensors mounted at the top of the windshield above the rearview mirror.

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This prototype in-cluster display highlights items the car is paying attention to, including other vehicles, traffic signs and so on.

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This prototype screen is a few inches larger than the screen in the current-generation Leaf.

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This trunk full of wires and processors is the brain of the Leaf's autonomous operations. It'll have to be greatly miniaturized for production.

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Tetsuya Iijima, Nissan's general manager of advanced driver-assistance systems and autonomous engineering, behind the wheel of his baby.

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Iijima has been working on advanced driver-assistance systems and autonomous car technology at Nissan for nearly 20 years.

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Note the well-integrated sensors in the lower quadrant of the front doors.

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