Next fall, Nissan will begin offering cars for sale in the Japanese market that include its new ProPilot 2.0 semi-autonomous driving technology. As CNN reports, ProPilot 2.0 will let drivers traveling on limited access highways to take their hands completely off the steering wheel as long as the car remains in the same lane.
It will also allow for lane change maneuvers and will help guide the car through highway junctions when following a preset route with a hand on the wheel. The system alerts the driver to place a hand on the wheel whenever the car needs to depart from the travel lane it is in.
As the graphic above illustrates, the sensors for ProPilot 2.0 include an array of cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors. It clearly resembles graphics we are familiar with that illustrate how Tesla’s Autopilot system works (below).
How does Nissan allow drivers to take their hands of the wheel for significant periods of time when Tesla does not (Tesla notifies you after 15 seconds)? The key difference is the Nissan system includes a camera that monitors the driver’s eyes to make sure she or he is paying attention to the road ahead. For Nissan, the critical piece is whether the driver is monitoring the road visually, not whether a hand is placed on the steering wheel.
50 years ago, early cruise control systems allowed drivers to remove their foot from the gas pedal while driving long distances. Now, Nissan makes it possible for drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel for significant periods of time as well. The important metric in both cases is watching the road. No reading the newspaper or having sex in the back seat. Unless and until full Level 5 autonomous systems are offered, the driver must remain actively engaged in the driving process at all times.
Cadillac also monitors the driver’s eye as part of its new Super Cruise package and it is that ability that led Consumer Reports to rate Super Cruise as the best semi-autonomous system available today.
Jake Fisher, CR’s director of auto testing, calls that kind of driver monitoring “a game changer in terms of safety for these sorts of systems.” Monitoring the eyes of the driver is something Tesla, with is mastery of camera technology, could easily do but has declined to include in its Autopilot system.
Current systems like ProPilot and ProPilot Assist from Nissan are little more than adaptive cruise control and lane-centering systems. ProPilot 2.0 will be a significant step forward. Nissan has offered no information on when, or if, this latest technology will be available on cars sold outside Japan.