Nissan ProPILOT Assist: Following the Semi-autonomous Parade… From a Distance

Nissan recently invited a few journalists to test out their new semi-autonomous driving system known as ProPILOT Assist.

Let's begin by saying that this technology will be initially offered on certain versions of the next Nissan LEAF and a dozen or so other Renault-Nissan models by 2020. Photos of a Nissan Rogue accompany this article, but that doesn't necessarily mean that ProPILOT Assist will be offered on this SUV. Nissan simply chose this model for the development of this technology in North America. ProPILOT Assist (PPA) is already in use in Japan on the Nissan Serena van, but its programming had to be adapted for the North American market for different road lines, different settings calibration, etc.

The current PPA is the first step toward semi-autonomous driving, a shift that is expected to take about four years at Nissan. For now, PPA is more accurately described as a driving aid, since the driver's attention and involvement are still required.

Two separate systems

Basically, Nissan ProPilot Assist employs two independent but complementary systems: Steering Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC).

To activate the system, press the blue button on the right branch of the steering wheel and, once the desired speed is reached (between 32 and 145 km/h), simply press the cruise control's “SET” button. PPA is then engaged and will maintain the set speed until a slower-moving car is detected in front.

Steering Assist

Using a camera located in the upper part of the windshield, Steering Assist helps the car remain between the lines on the road. This camera doesn’t actually read the lines; rather, it contrasts them with the road, which means Steering Assist is excellent at night.

Photo: Nissan

In winter, even when snow hides parts of the lines, the system can compensate provided it doesn’t lose sight of them for longer than three seconds. But what if the surface is completely covered with snow? The system even detects tracks left by preceding vehicles and will follow them. But it won’t work if there isn’t enough contrast, in which case Steering Assist will warn the driver that the system is no longer engaged. Also, the system deactivates if the windshield wipers are in use.

Having tested it out on the roads and highways of Detroit one fine summer day, I can tell you that Steering Assist works very well once it can find the lines on the road. Its software is sufficiently advanced to make the ride smooth, with the car well centered between the lines. Note that PPA doesn’t allow lane changes. What’s more, if you change lanes without signalling, you’ll feel a good deal of resistance in the steering wheel. In curves, Steering Assist takes G forces into account and can slow the car down if needed.

Hands on the wheel

Steering Assist requires the driver to always keep both hands on the wheel. If not, a reminder to hold the wheel appears on the dashboard.

If the driver doesn’t comply, a warning sounds. It becomes louder and louder until it determines that the driver is either asleep or stupid, and then it applies the brakes progressively until the vehicle is completely stopped.

Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC)

The ICC helps the vehicle adjust its speed to that of the vehicle it’s following, up to a complete stop. If the vehicle in front starts again within three seconds, a Nissan equipped with ProPilot Assist will follow it. If the stop is longer than three seconds, the driver will have to restart the system by pressing the cruise control’s RES (Resume) button. Acceleration is slow and the system maintains a significant distance with the preceding vehicle, even when set to the minimum. Nissan says this is a safety precaution, but I would feel more at ease if the acceleration was a bit faster.

Photo: Nissan

As it stands, PPA requires the near complete involvement of the driver. While it makes for a slightly more relaxed ride on the open road, it truly excels in reasonably heavy traffic (not stop-and-go, but almost). Note that the driver can override the PPA at all times, meaning you can suddenly decide to accelerate, brake, turn, etc.

A question of cost, obviously

Several brands already offer technology like Nissan ProPILOT Assist. And some, like Mercedes-Benz, have much more advanced systems on offer. It all boils down to cost. Mercedes can add $10,000 worth of technology in its $100,000+ S-Class and buyers won't even cringe. However, it’s an entirely different story in a car that sells for $20,000, $25,000 or $30,000.

What Nissan is offering isn’t very expensive, with the development having been done primarily at the programming level. Also, judging from how conservative ProPilot Assist is, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Nissan’s legal department had a thing or two to say about its development.

Share on Facebook

More on the subject

Test Drives2017 Nissan Versa Note at AJAC EcoRun
Usually, when Nissan Canada participates in AJAC’s EcoRun , it brings along a fully electric Nissan LEAF in order to boast its driving range and comfort. However, this year, the automaker decided to enter two units of the 2017 Nissan Versa Note instead, one with a manual transmission and the …
First Drives2017 Nissan Qashqai: It Could Cause Quite a Stir
This year, Nissan introduced the 2017 Qashqai, a vehicle that is expected to quickly become one of the brand’s bestsellers. Its unusual name (which is practically begging for spelling mistakes) comes from a group of Turkish tribes that live primarily in Iran. So is the 2017 Qashqai all-new? Not really.
Test Drives2017 Nissan GT-R: Missile with a Cockpit
This car is fast. Make that stupid fast. As we lift our foot off the brake pedal while the car’s engine is winding up, we’re slammed against the back of our seat and we violently hurtle forward. The 2017 Nissan GT-R is a big car, weighing in at just under …
New Models2018 Nissan LEAF Finally Unveiled
We were waiting for it for some time now. After all, it’s the world’s best-selling, fully electric vehicle, with more than 280,000 units sold across the globe, and 5400 sold in Canada since its launch in 2010. The LEAF successfully made its mark in a very competitive segment. During a …
Test Drives2017 Nissan Rogue: The Sensible Choice
In Canada, the Rogue is by far the most popular model in Nissan’s lineup. In 2017, the automaker sold as many units of its compact SUV as it sold cars. Add up sales of the Micra, the Versa Note, the Altima, the Maxima, the 370Z, the GT-R and the LEAF, …
CESThe Autonomous Vehicle According to Toyota
After the Platform 2.0 concept and its 2.1 evolution, Toyota has unveiled their Platform 3.0 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Actually, it’s the Lexus LS 600h L’s platform, but improved upon by the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). With Platform 3.0, Toyota wants to make its mark in …
Special EventsCadillac's Super Cruise: Next Step in Mobility
QUEBEC CITY, Quebec – I'm driving on the Autoroute 20 Ouest at a speed of 110 km/h from the coastal town of Kamouraska, situated on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River to the Quebec airport. Seems like a typical Thursday afternoon with a little rain sprinkled in for …
GenevaNissan IMQ Concept Previews Future “Smart” SUVs
From Kicks to Armada, Nissan’s SUV and crossover lineup is quite extensive and diversified, which is great for today’s customers. But what about the future? The answer lies, at least partially, in the all-new Nissan IMQ concept that was unveiled on Tuesday at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show . It …
Comments