Just a few years ago, technologies like lane keep assist and radar cruise control could only be ordered on high-end luxury vehicles or as added-cost options on the most expensive top trims of others. Now, anything from a base model Corolla to a work truck with vinyl seats comes with some form of advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), and the cost of entry has come crashing down hard as more and more companies jump on board.
Nissan is one such company but has taken a different approach to including ADAS in its vehicles. Its ProPilot Assist system is capable of partially operating the vehicle under very limited conditions, and can help take some of the stress out of traffic jams.
What Is ProPilot Assist and How Does It Work?
ProPilot Assist was first just a Nissan thing, rolling out as an option for the Rogue crossover. Infiniti jumped on board for 2019, adding the technology to their QX50 crossover. Starting with traditional advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that we see in many vehicles, ProPilot Assist goes a step further. Using forward-facing cameras, radar, sensors, and a standalone electronic control module, the system helps keep the vehicle centered in its lane and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles on the road without input required from the driver.
Once on a highway and when ProPilot Assist activated, the vehicle’s front-facing cameras will scan the road for lane markers. If their presence is confirmed, steering assist and Intelligent Cruise Control will engage, keeping the vehicle in its lane and traveling the desired speed. If the camera fails to detect lane markers at any point, the system will warn the driver and lane centering will disengage.
The driver can choose to let the vehicle operate completely on their behalf in stop and go traffic as well, but if there’s a stop for more than three seconds, the system will hold the stop and requires the driver to reactivate with a tap of the throttle or by pressing a button on the steering wheel.
It Won’t Do Everything
There’s a lot that ProPilot Assist will do for drivers, but there’s even more that it won’t. Those of us living where the roads are mainly composed of sand and salt for months at a time (cries in Maine) may find that the camera has trouble sorting out lane markers and struggles finding its way. Similarly, the system doesn’t work as well at night as it does when the roads are well-lit. It won’t (for good reason) work in a rainstorm, or when the vehicle’s wipers are actively being used, but can operate when they are set to auto/mist and activate for small splashes of water.
ProPilot Assist will not drive the car without active management from the driver, nor can it change lanes automatically. If a lane change is needed, the driver will have to take control. The system will disengage until it locks onto the new lane. To make sure the person behind the wheel is ready to take control at any moment, the car will beep at the driver to keep at least a finger or two on the steering wheel. If no hands are detected, the system will sound a beep and flash a nastygram in the gauge cluster. If there is no response from that warning, the car will give the brakes a tap. Finally, if there is no response after all of that commotion, the system will slow the car to a stop and turn on the emergency flashers. This can be handy if the driver has a medical emergency or other issue that takes their attention completely off of the road.
Which Vehicles Come with ProPilot Assist?
Nissan has begun including ProPilot Assist in more of its vehicles, either standard or as an added-cost option, since the initial rollout in the Rogue crossover. Infiniti gets this tech in one of its crossovers as well. The list of vehicles available with ProPilot Assist in 2019 includes:
The Future of ProPilot Assist
Ultimately, it’s a mistake to think of these technologies as giving the car “autonomy”, or self-driving capabilities. The current version of ProPilot Assist lands at Level Three on the SAE International Autonomy Scale, which means that it can manage lane-keeping and speed simultaneously under certain circumstances, but the driver is still expected to be in control. Though both Nissan and Infiniti use the big bad word (autonomous) in their marketing materials, they go to great lengths to make it clear that the systems are put in place to help the driver maintain control and exist to support, not replace the driver.
We know that ProPilot Assist is just the first step toward Nissan’s vision of an automated driving future. The company has made it clear that it wants to reach a state of zero emissions and zero fatalities, and views its driver assist technologies as one way to get there.
Nissan/Infiniti have announced future updates to the ProPilot Assist system. Version 2.0 is already on the horizon and will represent significant steps forward for the technology:
- Hands-free use: ProPilot 2.0 will not require the driver’s hands to be on the steering wheel at all times. Instead, the system will use a monitoring system to ensure that the person behind the wheel isn’t doing something else, like napping or scrolling Instagram
- Lane Changes: Where the current system requires the driver to initiate and control lane changes, the second-generation technology will be more proactive. If it senses a slower vehicle ahead, the car will use its 360-degree sensor array to determine if it’s safe to pass and will alert the driver that there is a lane change upcoming. The driver’s hands will be required to activate the turn signals. The car will then move to complete the pass, and will require the driver’s confirmation to move back into the original lane
ProPilot 2.0 will involve a much broader array of hardware than the camera and radar sensors we see in today’s system as well. This will include sonar sensors mounted around the vehicle, radar, and cameras. In conjunction with the car’s navigation system and GPS, the system will map out a 360-degree awareness of the car’s surroundings.
The new system will roll out in the Japan-only Nissan Skyline luxury sedan later this year, which means the United States may see the tech make its first appearance in the equivalent Infiniti Q50 sometime in 2020. Despite being a big step forward for Nissan’s advanced driver assist systems, ProPilot 2.0 is still not going to be a futuristic “silver bullet” that will relieve drivers of their responsibilities to stay alert.
Though we’re just starting to see Level 3 tech make an appearance in the Nissan lineup, it’s not a new thing. Google hit the mark way back in 2012 in its test vehicles, but quickly realized that it was just good enough for drivers to completely zone out and do other things behind the wheel. That realization was big enough for the company to abandon its efforts and focus on going straight to level five (fully autonomous) vehicles with its subsidiary, Waymo. In order for these things to catch on and work for Nissan or any other company, the people using them can’t be idiots and abuse them by checking out completely (looking at you, Tesla driver), so do yourself and everyone else a favor and pay at least a little bit of attention to the road.