First autonomous Japanese car: 2017 Nissan Serena with ProPilot

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The 2017 Nissan Serena MPV will be the first self-driving Japanese car. It arrives in August. The Nissan ProPilot system allows autonomous driving at speeds suitable for Japanese roads, between 30 and 100 km / h, or 19 to 62 mph. It will follow the vehicle in front of you, slow to a stop and then pick up speed, stay centered in the lane, and handle cuts, cars crowding in the space between you and the car in front of you.

Nissan ProPilot uses both radar and camera systems. It is partnering with Israel’s MobileEye, which provides much of the technology behind Tesla Autopilot, as well as systems from GM, BMW and Volvo. Speaking of autopilot, during its press conference today in Yokohama, Nissan made it clear what ProPilot can and cannot do, including no lane changes. It happens in 2018.

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How ProPilot works

Nissan states that “ProPilot is revolutionary autonomous driving technology designed for highway use in single lane traffic,” which means the car stays in one lane regardless of the number of lanes of traffic. “Nissan is the first Japanese automaker to introduce a combination of steering, throttle and braking that can operate in fully automatic mode, alleviating the driver’s workload in heavy road traffic and long commutes.”

The components of ProPilot include a front camera, an electronic control module for the throttle, an electric power steering which can be controlled by the processors, a brake controller, an electric parking brake to keep the car stationary without the driver presses the foot brake, and an ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) engine control unit acts as the master controller for the other components. ProPilot is activated with a sequence of two buttons: Press ProPilot from off to on (ready), then press a Set button. The diagram above shows a steep curve that would confuse most track centering systems, so we assume this is for illustration purposes only.

More capacity, more countries to come

What Nissan does is provide a set of autonomous driving features well suited to the Japanese domestic market: no speeds above 60 mph, the ability to handle cars cutting into the lane just ahead (cruise control systems). Current adaptive speeds take about a second to recognize the intruder and back up), and no need to keep your foot on the brake pedal when standing in traffic or at signals.

Nissan says it will offer lane changing capabilities, just like Tesla has now, in 2018. This requires blind spot and side sonar to make sure the adjacent lane is open. For the US market, the adaptive cruise control portion is expected to operate at higher speeds for highway commuters, where rush-hour speeds could drop to zero, or up to 75 mph when traffic is clearing on a mile or two.

Nissan also announced plans to move ProPilot from the freeway to the city by 2020, including negotiating at intersections, which means the ability to handle passing traffic and pedestrians on urban roads.

The Serena is a 185-inch-long minivan, a few inches long than a Nissan Rogue, with a taller, more boxy shape to maximize space efficiency and a shorter hood.


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