Nissan North America has demonstrated its ProPilot Assist technology to media. The demo cars were Rogue SUVs (sold as X-Trail elsewhere). The system will be available in the US later this year and, after region-specific fine tuning, is due in the UK and Europe in the English-made Qashqai from next autumn. It will also be offered in the recently updated European X-Trail, and the redesigned Leaf due out soon.
“ProPilot Assist reduces the hassle of stop-and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving,” the automaker said.
The system, revealed at the Nissan Technical Center North America (NTCNA) in Michigan, was tuned specifically for US roads and drivers and underwent more than 50,000 miles of development on roads across the continent. It combines Steering Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control for use in both heavy and flowing traffic situations and is a ‘hands-on’ driver assist system rather than a ‘self-driving’ feature, the automaker said.
“Nissan is a technology pioneer and ProPilot Assist sets a strong, consumer-focused foundation for fully autonomous vehicles of the future,” said Takeshi Yamaguchi, R&D chief at the US unit.
The technology eventually will also be offered in Europe, Japan and China, with 10 models to be launched by 2020 by the Renault-Nissan Alliance, so expect it to appear in Renault models, as well.
How it works
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.
It uses a forward-facing camera, forward-facing radar, sensors and electronic control module to help the driver stay in the centre 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 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 poor weather if the windscreen 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. 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 centred in the lane as well as adjusting for various traffic flow conditions,” said Yamaguchi. “However, just as non-autonomous vehicles today, it 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.”
Nissan claims the system eases driver workload by reducing the amount of driver acceleration, steering and braking input under some driving conditions. To activate the system, the driver pushes the blue ON button, integrated into the right-side steering wheel spoke. Step two is to set the Intelligent Cruise Control when the desired speed is reached.
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 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 centring helps keep the vehicle in the centre of the lane,” said Yamaguchi. “Drivers who have experienced ProPilot Assist always remark about the difference it makes, not realising 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.”
The Japanese market Serena was the first Nissan model with ProPilot Assist. The UK built, European Qashqai is next in autumn 2017, according to Nissan North America, contradicting Nissan GB’s promise, at the recent Qashqai/X-Trail update media launch event, of “spring 2018”.