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While many automakers are eyeing a future of hands-off driving technology, we’re still a ways off from getting there. That’s why Nissan recently used one of its interns as a tool to improve the ProPilot hands-on driver-assistance system.

Back in 2018, Tyler Szymkowski was an engineering intern at Nissan. Contrary to the stereotype of interns having to deal with menial tasks, the Japanese automaker immediately put him to work behind the wheel of a vehicle equipped with a beta version of the ProPilot software. While it was operating smoothly in highway scenarios, Szymkowski’s job was to test the system in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Nissan ProPilot

“Customers were telling us that three seconds wasn’t long enough,” said Nissan Senior Project Engineer Brittany Tessmer. “How long the system could sit and then re-engage to make the experience more seamless was something we needed to pinpoint.”

In stop-and-go traffic, ProPilot was only capable of holding the vehicle stationary for three seconds before disengaging – if more than three seconds passed, the driver needed to tap the accelerator to re-engage the system. That’s why Tessmer and her team sent their intern to some of the most congested cities in the country to gather critical data. 

“I got a very realistic taste of what our customers experience in major cities,” said Szymkowski. “There were hundreds of additional hours spent basically waiting for a traffic jam.”

He sat through 64 standstill traffic jams in Los Angeles, Washington, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and San Francisco – pretty much hell on earth. However, the latest ProPilot system offered on the 2021 Nissan Rogue and Nissan Pathfinder can wait 30 seconds before disengaging, all thanks to the torture that he endured. Szymkowski's efforts behind the wheel fast-tracked him to being hired as a full-time Nissan engineer.

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