I've been lucky enough to ride in a self-driving Toyota down a highway in Tokyo, cruise in an autonomous Hyundai drive in Las Vegas, and tested ZF's auto-braking AI on a track in Austria.

Nissan ProPilot Assist Steering Wheel
What all of these futuristic rides had in common is that they were done in prototype vehicles, ones that are not something you can buy today. You can't buy Nissan's ProPilot Assist tech just yet, either – it will debut in the new Leaf later this year – but when it does arrive, it'll be a few noticeable steps below the self-driving abilities being tested elsewhere in the industry.

You can tell that from the name. In the U.S., Nissan will call the technology ProPilot Assist, whereas in other markets it'll simply be called ProPilot. The name change is due, in part, to the fact that Nissan wants to be totally clear that this system is "a 'hands-on' driver assist system rather than a 'self-driving' feature," as a new press release says. Nissan also doesn't want ProPilot Assist to be compared to what many drivers think of as the current gold standard of self-driving technology, Tesla's Autopilot.

That said, ProPilot Assist is for sure the company's first important step in autonomous drive technology. After introducing it in the new Leaf, Nissan will bring ProPilot Assist to other models in the U.S. (which ones and when, no one would tell us at a preview event for the U.S.-bound technology this week). ProPilot is already available in the Japanese market in the Serena minivan, and 60 percent of Serena buyers have opted for trim levels that include ProPilot.

Nissan Intelligent Mobility and ProPILOT Assist

So, what does ProPilot Assist actually do? Here's where things don't sound quite as impressive as the name implies.  If you've driven a recent vehicle with lane keep assist (LKA) technology and adaptive cruise control, then you've pretty much experienced the basics of ProPilot Assist.

When the new Leaf comes out, ProPilot Assist will be able to help the driver stay in a highway lane (as long as the lane markers are clear and identifiable by the car's camera, which is supplied by Mobileye) and it will keep you safely spaced back from the car in front of you. The one way that ProPilot Assist differs from simple LKA and adaptive cruise is that it can help you out in traffic jams.

If the system is running and traffic slows, ProPilot Assist will make sure you keep up with all the car as they wind their way around an accident or construction or whatever is causing the problem. If things come to a complete stop, ProPilot Assist will stay engaged for three seconds. If you stop for more than that, you have to step on the accelerator or hit the "resume" button for the car to creep forward.

Obviously, the minimum speed for ProPilot Assist to work is zero miles per hour, and the top speed is 90 mph.

Nissan ProPilot dash screen

In other markets, the new Leaf will get ProPilot Park, but that option isn't coming to the U.S. in the first year, since it wasn't seen as a priority here. With parking more of a challenge in Europe and Japan, those markets got the engineering money and time to apply the self-parking ability first. As ProPilot evolves (see the graphic above) it will gain the ability to change lanes on the highway in two years, and assist with driving in city streets in four years thanks to over-the-air updates. All of these abilities will remain Level 2 on the autonomous driving scale, which means human input is required to keep things going.

During a drive on public roads in Michigan this week, I was able to test a version of ProPilot Assist that had been modded into a 2017 Rogue SUV. Despite the prototype situation, the system performed as promised, requiring minimal input from me to assure the car I hadn't dozed off as it made the drive around metro Detroit about as easy as it can be without a fully self-driving car. Easing up the tensions of driving is Nissan's main mission with ProPilot Assist, and it works as advertised. If Nissan wants to fully compete with the rest of the self-driving pack, though, it'll need to advertise – and evolve – a better co-pilot.

Press Release:

Nissan ProPILOT AssistTM technology reduces the hassle of stop-and-go highway driving, ready for U.S. launch

  • Nissan enhances the driving experience by introducing technologies to make vehicles more intelligent, exciting and attainable partners
  • New ProPILOT AssistTM hands-on-wheel technology paves the way to the next level of autonomous driving
  • Unique Nissan Intelligent Mobility approach makes technology easy and intuitive – ProPILOT Assist features "two-button" activation
FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. (July 21, 2017) – Earlier this week, for the first time on public roads in the U.S., Nissan put media behind the wheel to experience its ProPILOT Assist technology, which will be available to customers later this year. ProPILOT Assist reduces the hassle of stop- and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving.

The ProPILOT Assist system, revealed at Nissan Technical Center North America (NTCNA), tuned specifically for U.S. roads and drivers – underwent more than 50,000 miles of development on roads across the entire United States. ProPILOT Assist combines Steering Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control for use in both heavy and flowing traffic situations. It is a "hands-on" driver assist system rather than a "self-driving" feature.

Nissan ProPILOT Assist

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

Nissan has plans to extend this technology to more models in Europe, Japan, China and the United States – with 10 models to be launched by 2020 by the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

How ProPILOT Assist Works

Tuned specifically for U.S. roads, ProPILOT Assist is designed to be more intuitive and user-friendly compared to other driver-assist technologies. It can potentially help lessen driver fatigue and create a more confident driving experience – especially for drivers who experience heavy highway traffic on a daily basis.

ProPILOT Assist utilizes a forward-facing camera, forward-facing radar, sensors and electronic control module to help the driver stay in the center of the driving lane and to maintain vehicle speed (set by the driver) or help maintain a gap to the preceding vehicle if the vehicle speed drops below the driver-set speed. It also can slow the vehicle to a complete stop and holds the vehicle during traffic jam conditions.

While providing steering assist, reducing the need for constant small steering adjustments, the driver's hands must be on the steering wheel at all times. Hands-on detection is provided by the system's steering torque sensor. If the driver only grips the steering system with a light touch, the warning system may activate, alerting the driver to apply more pressure or a tighter grip on the steering wheel.

Steering assist is cancelled in inclement weather if the windshield wipers are in the low or high position (if lane lines can be detected, the system can remain active when the wipers are in the intermittent mode or if the mist function is activated). The driver's input always takes priority, overriding the system when the steering wheel is turned or the turn signal is operated (steering assistance goes into a temporary standby mode). The system also goes into temporary standby mode when the accelerator pedal is pressed. And, the system's Intelligent Cruise Control and lane keep assistance are both cancelled when the brakes are applied.

"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 non- autonomous 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."

About ProPILOT Assist

Nissan's new ProPILOT Assist eases driver workload by reducing the amount of driver acceleration, steering and braking input under certain driving conditions. To activate the system, the driver simply pushes the blue ProPILOT Assist ON button, which is integrated into the right-side steering wheel spoke. Step two is to set the Intelligent Cruise Control when the desired speed is reached, as with a normal advanced cruise control system.

When lane markers are consistently detected, steering assist engages and the steering wheel/lane marker icons on the instrument panel turn green. Both right and left hand markers need to be detected by the front camera. Steering assist will engage or disengage depending on the visibility or presence of lane markers, though the Intelligent Cruise Control will remain active. If the vehicle comes to a complete stop in a traffic jam situation for more than three seconds, the driver just presses the resume button or taps the accelerator pedal to begin moving again.

"ProPILOT Assist functionally enhances the ICC system, including stop, hold and start, while the steering assist's lane centering helps keep the vehicle in the center of the lane," added Yamaguchi. "Drivers who have experienced ProPILOT Assist always remark about the difference it makes, not realizing how many acceleration, steering and braking inputs they make under normal driving – and how much more enjoyable it is to have ProPILOT Assist help take care of it for them."

Nissan Intelligent Mobility –building on global progress

As the world is facing serious challenges such as climate change, traffic congestion, road fatalities and increasing air pollution, Nissan is committed to addressing these challenges by making transportation safer, smarter, and more enjoyable. The ultimate goal is achieving zero-emissions and zero-fatalities on the road. Nissan Intelligent Mobility is the roadmap to achieve it.

Nissan Intelligent Mobility is not about removing humans from the driving experience. Instead, it is about building a better future for Nissan customers where cars are their partners, and where drivers are more confident and more connected.

Nissan Intelligent Mobility encompasses three core areas of innovation, not solely focused on autonomous drive:

Nissan Intelligent Driving helps to give customers more confidence through enhanced safety, control, and comfort. Driver Assist technologies can already be found in Nissan vehicles today, including the Japanese market Nissan Serena, the first model produced to feature ProPILOT Assist technology. Serena will be joined by the European model Qashqai in fall 2017.

Nissan Intelligent Power makes driving more exciting for customers by continuing to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy. Nissan is committed to a holistic approach to achieving zero- emission mobility by making internal combustion engines more efficient and putting more advanced technologies into our electric vehicles.

Nissan Intelligent Integration keeps customers more connected by conveniently linking Nissan cars to the wider society. Nissan is helping to shape a sustainable ecosystem enabling cars to interact with people, other cars and road infrastructure. This approach will eventually lead to remote vehicle operation, reduced traffic jams, more efficient car-sharing, and improved energy management.

For more information on the complete Nissan vehicle lineup and available advanced safety, security and driver assistance technologies, please visit www.NissanNews.com.

About Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

Nissan is a global full-line vehicle manufacturer that sells more than 60 models under the Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun brands. In fiscal year 2016, the company sold 5.63 million vehicles globally, generating revenue of 11.72 trillion yen. Nissan engineers, manufactures and markets the world's best-selling all-electric vehicle in history, the Nissan LEAF. Nissan's global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, manages operations in six regions: Asia & Oceania; Africa, Middle East & India; China; Europe; Latin America; and North America. Nissan has a global workforce of 247,500 and has been partnered with French manufacturer Renault under the Renault-Nissan Alliance since 1999. In 2016, Nissan acquired a 34% stake in Mitsubishi Motors, which became the third member of the Alliance – a grouping with combined annual sales of almost 10 million units a year.

For more information about our products, services and commitment to sustainable mobility, visit nissan- global.com. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn and see all our latest videos on YouTube.

About Nissan North America

In North America, Nissan's operations include automotive styling, engineering, consumer and corporate financing, sales and marketing, distribution and manufacturing. Nissan is dedicated to improving the environment under the Nissan Green Program and has been recognized annually by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency as an ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year since 2010. More information on Nissan in North America and the complete line of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles can be found online at

www.NissanUSA.com and www.InfinitiUSA.com, or visit the U.S. media sites NissanNews.com and InfinitiNews.com.

Source: Nissan

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