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Car and Driver: Nissan ProPilot: Automated Driving for Those in the Cheap Seats


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Nissan-ProPilot-Serena

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As promised, Nissan is rolling out its first semi-autonomous driving system this year, and the company is calling it ProPilot. But before we in the U.S. get our hands on—or, rather, off—it, Japanese families interested in a new minivan will get first dibs.

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The ProPilot system, which debuts on the funky-fresh Serena that’s undoubtedly cooler than our market’s larger, bottom-selling Quest, is a highway assist. Like semi-autonomous assists from Audi and Honda, ProPilot can steer, brake, and accelerate automatically. But Nissan’s system is fully automated, including around S-curves, and yet it doesn’t rely on radar or lidar sensors.

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Nissan-ProPilot-Serena-components

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Instead, Nissan claims a single camera—as opposed to the twin cameras in Subaru’s EyeSight system or the combo camera/radar/ultrasound in Tesla’s Autopilot—can accurately judge both lane markings and the preceding car’s distance in “three-dimensional depth.” We’re not certain how one video camera operating only in the visible light spectrum can do that, but there it is. It’s certainly a cheaper method of going about the self-driving business, and like Volvo’s current Autopilot, the system needs a car ahead to function. Mostly. Under 31 mph, ProPilot can’t work without tracking another car in the lane. But in constant traffic, the system works between 19 mph and 62 mph (Japan’s current maximum speed limit), though when it does come to the U.S. at a later, unannounced date, Nissan probably will want to enable ProPilot to go faster. A steering-wheel button engages ProPilot, the driver presses the cruise control’s speed set button, and that’s it.

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Unlike current systems that require steering inputs, ProPilot, at least in Japan, is designed to be a fully autonomous system that likely will disengage only without a preceding car, when the driver falls out of the speed range, or when it can’t read the road. Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system is now under federal investigation, and Nissan may want to find out the outcome of that inquiry before launching ProPilot on our shores.

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