Nissan Edges Closer to Autonomous Driving With ProPilot Assist | Edmunds

Nissan Edges Closer to Autonomous Driving With ProPilot Assist

Nissan has edged closer to autonomous driving with the debut of its ProPilot Assist technology on U.S. roads.

ProPilot Assist, which will be available to customers later this year, does not deliver a fully autonomous experience since it requires that the driver's hands remain on the steering wheel. But it does provide a highly advanced combination of semiautonomous features that can lessen driver fatigue and make for a more pleasant road trip. And with the demand for automatic safety and driver-assist technology on the rise, it's likely that many shoppers will be interested in checking out new Nissan vehicles with ProPilot Assist.

Many of the system's capabilities, including adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, will be familiar to consumers who have shopped for a new car within the past few years. What's interesting is the ability of ProPilot Assist to integrate these features with an advanced lane keeping assist that's designed to "read" markings with cameras, radar and sensors to keep the vehicle centered in its lane, even on moderate curves.

What's also noteworthy is similar automatic systems are most often found on pricey vehicles from automakers such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. But Nissan's U.S. demo vehicle for ProPilot is the popular Rogue compact SUV, and the company says it plans to introduce the technology on the 2018 Nissan Leaf EV later this year. ProPilot will then be available on 10 models by 2020, making clear Nissan's intentions to forge ahead with autonomous vehicle development.

"Nissan is a technology pioneer, and ProPilot Assist sets a strong, consumer-focused foundation for fully autonomous vehicles of the future," Takeshi Yamaguchi, senior vice president of Research and Development for Nissan Technical Center North America, said in a statement.

To activate ProPilot Assist, the driver pushes a blue button on the right-side steering wheel spoke and sets the adaptive cruise control when the desired speed is reached. As the system detects lane markers, it engages steering assist, which doesn't completely take over steering but reduces the amount of driver input needed to keep the vehicle centered in the lane. Steering assist automatically disengages if visibility is reduced or it loses sight of lane markers, but adaptive cruise control continues to work, gauging the distance to the vehicle ahead and increasing or reducing speed as needed to maintain a safe distance.

The system also applies the brakes automatically, either slowing the vehicle or bringing it to a complete stop when necessary. If traffic stops for more than 3 seconds, the driver either presses the resume button or taps the accelerator to get moving again. And if the driver grips the steering wheel too lightly, a warning system alerts him or her to apply more pressure on the wheel.

"ProPilot Assist has the ability to track curving lanes, helping the driver stay centered in the lane as well as adjusting for various traffic flow conditions," said Yamaguchi. "However, just as nonautonomous vehicles today, ProPilot Assist requires the driver to remain engaged in the task of driving at all times — though the technology can reduce driver fatigue and increase driving enjoyment."

For all its capability, ProPilot Assist is not the most advanced semiautonomous system available today. Tesla's Autopilot, for example, does more and allows a driver's hands to leave the wheel for a couple minutes before warnings begin. And at the moment, ProPilot is only optimized for single-lane highway driving.

But Nissan plans to continue development and expects the system to support multilane highways within two years and urban traffic within four years. This approach, while perhaps more cautious than that of some competitors, moves Nissan's technological advancement toward full self-driving capability.

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