Nissan's ProPILOT Assist Previewed
Nissan recently announced that the all-new Leaf, which will be unveiled soon, will be equipped with the company's ProPILOT Assist. While this system doesn’t enable autonomous operation, it's certainly a step in that direction. The goal is to reduce stress and fatigue by helping with acceleration and braking--even to a full stop--in traffic, and to keep the car centered in the lane. This can be extremely handy on long highway stretches and road trips. Even though the system has only been announced for use in the Leaf, Nissan integrated ProPILOT into a few 2017.5 Nissan Rogues and gave us the opportunity to try it out.
This wasn’t a drive on a test course, either. We were thrust into traffic snarls from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley. Getting into the Rogue, we saw a blue button on the right side of the steering wheel, which activates the system. Between the gauges, there's a spot where a display shows graphics related to the system. It was on, and ready to be activated. Driving toward the freeway, we set the Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC, aka adaptive cruise control), chose our desired distance from the car ahead and let ProPILOT Assist get to work.
Despite setting the cruise control to the shortest distance, there were several occasions where other cars would dive into the space in front of the Rogue. The system reacted quickly yet smoothly to the lane interloper, and activated the SUV's brakes until the Rogue was again at that preset distance from the car ahead. Getting on the freeway, we enjoyed a brief respite of light traffic, and observed the lane-centering feature of the system. It uses a forward-facing camera to determine the center of the lane, based on where the lane lines are. There were times that the steering wheel tugged slightly. ProPILOT detects that the Rogue was no longer centered, so it smoothly made corrections to get back on track, without any abrupt left-right-left-right action. Your first instinct may be to tug the wheel back the other way, but if you let it work, ProPILOT will keep your car centered, even through curves.
Then traffic got more congested and the ICC kicked in, using front radar to keep that distance from the stopped car ahead. It even came to a full stop. If the system is activated and you end up stopped for more than three seconds, you have to push the Resume button or tap the throttle to get going again. However, there are occasions where the lane-centering system won't work, such as if it can't detect the lane markers on poorly maintained roads or there is enough severe weather to keep the camera from detecting them. It will beep to let you know that it is inactive. But this is a driver-assist system, not autonomous driving, so it simply means that you drive the way you always have until the system "sees" the lane markers again. You can also override the system by using the turn signal, steering yourself, or applying the brake. The driver's actions are the higher priority.
Keep your hands on the wheel
What happens if you take your hands off the wheel? ProPILOT gauges whether your hands are on the wheel based on steering torque. If it senses that your hands are off the wheel, there's a warning light that comes on, then beeping that gets faster. If it still doesn’t sense your hands are on the wheel, it starts to tap the brakes. If it goes for a long enough amount of time, it eventually brings the car to a stop and turns on the hazard lights. All of this is for safety reasons, in the event the driver is dealing with an emergency and is no longer capable of driving.
Once you get the hang of using ProPILOT, it comes in pretty handy in traffic and on the freeway. It's a little strange to feel the car moving side to side and forward and back for you, but the motions are smooth. For this to be a success, though, what's going to be most important for Nissan is to have its dealers show potential buyers how to use it. Nissan is well aware of this, and has been doing extensive ProPILOT Assist dealer training since January.