Nissan Motor Company is the latest automaker to announce an autonomous driving package that it will introduce next month in Japan on its new Serena van. Dubbed ProPILOT and part of Nissan’s Intelligent Driving initiative, this sophisticated but easy-to-use setup will migrate to the Qashqai compact SUV in Europe next year and eventually in the U.S. and China. Nissan is developing market-specific versions of ProPILOT technology with the initial iteration geared toward single-lane highway driving conditions in Japan. More advanced forms of ProPILOT that will accommodate automatic highway lane changes and subsequently autonomous driving on urban roads and through intersections are slated for 2018 and 2020, respectively.

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Nissan’s says ProPILOT is the first system from a Japanese automaker that integrates a vehicle’s steering, acceleration and braking functions into a full automatic mode that can be engaged or disengaged via a switch on the steering wheel. Once activated, the system will control the following distances as selected by the driver as well as maintain lane positioning and braking control while the vehicle is moving straight ahead or cornering. Operational between 19-62 mph, ProPILOT relies on a mono camera equipped with advanced 3D image-processing software and other sensors that let it instantly recognize and react to vehicles ahead as well as read lane markers. When brought to a stop because of the actions of a car ahead, a ProPILOT-equipped vehicle will not start moving again until the driver manually reengages the system or presses down on the accelerator.

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Although ProPILOT was created to make travel safer and more relaxing, it’s not designed for actual hands-free operation. In the interests of safety, the driver must maintain contact with the steering wheel at all times or face both visual and audio warnings. During a news conference Nissan Executive Vice President Hideyuki Sakamoto underscored the need for constant vigilance when using any type of autonomous or semi-autonomous system by noting: “We need to send out much stronger warnings as this technology becomes more advanced. In the future, improving the safety aspects as well as the functionality will have to come as a set.”

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