The fruits of the five-year research-and-development partnership could be seen as early as year's end, as the two begin to deploy the hardware and software necessary for such vehicles.
"The partnership will accelerate Nissan's development of safe, secure and reliable autonomous drive technology that we will progressively introduce to consumers beginning in 2016 up to 2020," said Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn in a statement.
Testing will be conducted on a fleet of electric Nissan Leaf cars. The work will take place at Nissan's U.S. Silicon Valley Research Center and NASA's Ames Research Center. The work will focus on autonomous drive systems, human-machine interface solutions, network-enabled applications and software analysis and verification.
It's a natural partnership for Nissan and NASA. Nissan has pledged to introduce self-driving vehicles to the public by 2020 and NASA needs a Mars rover that can drive autonomously.
"The work of NASA and Nissan — with one directed to space and the other directed to earth, is connected by similar challenges," Ghosn said.
In addition, a study released on Thursday by The Boston Consulting Group predicted that partially autonomous vehicles are likely to hit the roads in larger numbers by 2017.
"BCG expects that partially self-driving cars with highway autopilot functionality and traffic jam autopilot will hit the roads in larger numbers by 2017, followed by urban autopilot by 2022 and fully autonomous driving by 2025," the study said.
It warned that mass adoption of autonomous vehicles will not occur, however, until vehicles are secure from cyber-attack, uncertainty about liability is resolved, remaining social resistance is overcome and high-precision maps are developed.
"Many people don't realize how far along some of these technologies are," said Xavier Mosquet, North America leader of BCG's Automotive practice.
Edmunds says: More proof that self-driving vehicles are bound to be on consumers' future shopping lists.