Car manufacturers are continually trying to develop the new technology or the new system which will give a competitive advantage to its models.
It is the quest for the next big thing that leads to vehicles that can now park themselves, that can brake if a pedestrian suddenly appears, and that can also keep you in your lane on the highway at basically any speed while you relax to the sound of your favorite music.
This is what Nissan ProPilot’s system that is about to arrive in North America on the next-generation Nissan Leaf wants to do. Nissan says other models will offer it later, but the manufacturer has not given more information in that regard. ProPilot, which is already available in Japan since last autumn in the Serena minivan, combines different driver assistance systems already offered by Nissan in order to bring driving automation to a new level.
That said, we are not talking about an autonomous driving system here. The hands must remain on the steering wheel and the driver is at all times responsible for actually driving. Nissan’s goal is to simplify the driving process with its ProPilot system and thus improve driver comfort.
The technology includes adaptive cruise control and a lane departure prevention system, in a nutshell. ProPilot is activated from 32 km/h by pressing a button with a blue logo on the steering wheel.
Once activated, it uses a camera, a radar, various sensors and a module to assimilate the information transmitted by these components to keep the car in its lane and at a safe distance from the vehicle in front.
Specifically, the steering wheel moves under your hands to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane, and the speed is adjusted to keep a predetermined distance with the car ahead. If the lane is free, the car returns to a speed determined by the user. If there is congestion, the car will automatically slow down to a complete stop.
Ultimately, it is a partially autonomous driving system, but again Nissan reminded us many times that it is absolutely necessary to keep our hands on the wheel. A series of warnings leading to the complete stop of the vehicle with the hazard lights activated are in place and monitor anyone who wants to have a look-guys-no-hands moment.
We had the opportunity to evaluate the system on the highways near Detroit and overall it is efficient. It does not react too abruptly and when a curve presents itself it is able to follow it with confidence. If a vehicle cuts in front of you, it responds quickly to slow down the speed, and there are not too many beeps or other unwanted warnings when it is doing its thing.
On the other hand, it kept the vehicle a bit too close to the center line and other vehicles that were passing to my liking at times, and there was a jolt-inducing moment where we were not able to follow the lane through a curve and I therefore had to put the vehicle back on the right track. And, Nissan confirms that if the lines of the road are not visible, the system will not be able to function.
But all this is true for all such systems, systems that at the moment are currently and mostly available on luxury models offered from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and others. Nissan somehow democratizes this type of technology, and like all such systems, some other drivers will like it and others will not. That’s why Nissan had the good idea to offer a function to completely disable ProPilot if that is the driver’s wish.