Nissan has outlined the next step in the development of its ProPilot semi-autonomous technology. By 2020, the system will be advanced enough to handle city intersections without any human intervention. ProPilot is currently only able to drive on roads with a single lane in each direction, though by 2018 Nissan plans to have improved the system enough that it can take over on multiple-lane roads.
Nissan has yet to say how it will enhance ProPilot to cope with the added complication of navigating intersections, but that upgrade will make cars equipped with the system able to take over driving in more situations. Nissan researcher Melissa Cefkin acknowledged that step adds a lot of difficulty to programming a self-driving car.
“We're trying to distill out of our work some key lessons for what an autonomous vehicle will need to know,” she said in a statement. “What happens at a four-way stop – it's open to a lot of interpretation.”
So far, ProPilot is only available on the Nissan Serena people mover in Japan. Similar to Tesla’s AutoPilot, ProPilot can take over from the driver in certain situations. Drivers can engage ProPilot at speeds between 30 km/h and 130 km/h (about 18 mph to 81 mph), and the system will automatically maintain that speed or brake to keep a safe distance behind other cars. ProPilot will hold the car at a complete stop if traffic requires – without the driver needing to put his or her foot on the brake pedal – and can steer to keep the car within its traffic lane. ProPilot is activated with steering wheel-mounted buttons, and the car has a display for the human occupant to monitor the system’s performance.
Unlike Tesla’s AutoPilot, Nissan ProPilot requires the driver keep his or her hands on the wheel to stay alert with road situations. That means that the driver could take over at a moment’s notice if there was a technical problem with the semi-autonomous feature.
Though it’s only offered on one Japanese car for now, ProPilot will spread soon. Nissan plans to introduce ProPilot on the European-market Qashqai by 2017 and will eventually offer it on cars in the U.S. and China, too.