A week with Nissan’s new ProPilot Assist technology
For 2018, Nissan has rolled out its latest driver-assist technology, ProPilot Assist, in two vehicles: the 2018 Nissan LEAF electric vehicle and the 2018 Nissan Rogue crossover. We spent a week in the new Rogue to test how useful and safe this new tech really is in the real world. Overall, we were pretty impressed.
The 2018 Nissan Rogue is already a pretty great crossover that remains largely unchanged from the 2017 model – it's great enough that it's Nissan's volume seller in the United States. The Rogue Sport, a slightly smaller version of the Rogue, is known as the Qashqai most everywhere else in the world. Overall, the Rogue is a good-sized, well-established crossover.
Nissan announced that it would be adding its ProPilot system to the Rogue for the 2018 model year, with the belief being that the technology is good enough that the company is confident in putting it in its most mainstream model. We'd be inclined to agree. During our week with the ProPilot-equipped Rogue we put the system through some pretty robust testing on the public roads and byways of Wyoming.
There Are Limits
To start with, Nissan is not afraid to clearly point out the limitations of the ProPilot Assist system. A brochure (see gallery) that came with the car clearly listed those limitations and what they mean for the driver. One point made perfectly clear: the driver is still responsible for the car. This is not "auto pilot," nor is it intended to be. The "Assist" word is in its name for a reason. No Tesla nomenclature flubs will be happening over at Nissan.
Nissan also wants people to understand that the current version of ProPilot is just a first step of many towards fully autonomous driving. Coming in the next couple of years will be multi-lane capabilities, including lane changing, as assistance options. Coming within four years will be city driving capability on top of that. We're inclined to agree that Nissan has set aggressive, but realistic goals for its self-driving tech and are glad to see that this first step delivers on the promises made. Talking a big game is one thing. Delivering is another.
The basic premise behind ProPilot Assist is to help a driver on the highway or freeway stay centered in a lane of traffic while responding to varied vehicle inputs that are detecting road conditions, other vehicles, and driver input. It took us a little while to step away from thinking of it as a "drives itself" system and instead think of it as a "helps us drive better" system.
The limitations of the ProPilot system are clear and, in the real world, generally predictable. If there are no lane markings (on both sides of the roadway), it will not work. If those markings are disrupted significantly for any length of time, ProPilot won't work. If the weather makes using the system unsafe, the system won't work. If the road should really be driven with two hands on the wheel (i.e. has hard corners or requires rapid response times), ProPilot isn't going to help. ProPilot works at highway speeds (45 mph/72.4 km/h and faster).
How ProPilot Assist Is Used
Given those restrictions, though, learning to use ProPilot Assist as a benefit is fairly easy. The suggested lane-centering prompts from the steering wheel should be taken as that: suggestions. Allowing the vehicle to lightly bump the wheel to stay centered begins to come naturally after a few minutes. The adjusting cruise control, which most of us have probably experienced by now, is done very well and keeps the Rogue at a predictable distance from vehicles in front.
To operate ProPilot Assist, the driver first pushes down the blue ProPilot button on the steering wheel. This replaces the standard adaptive cruise control button familiar to most of us and has the same effect, activating the cruise system. Setting a speed is done in the normal way, with the "Set" toggle that activates the system. The driver information screen at the center of the instrument cluster notifies the driver that ProPilot Assist is on and the cruise control is set. We noted that when ProPilot cannot operate, the adaptive cruise control still works normally – the blue shading and ProPilot symbol will be off, indicating it's in cruise-only mode.
Once active, ProPilot Assist will steer the car to keep it centered in its lane, even through most highway-geared corners. To change lanes or override the ProPilot system, the driver just does so as if the system were not engaged. Activating the turn signal, for example, disengages the ProPilot system temporarily to shut off lane-exiting alerts, and stops steering prompts so the driver can make the lane change. ProPilot will reengage a few seconds later, chirping an alert to let the driver know.
ProPilot As Safety Equipment
Where ProPilot Assist becomes more interesting, though, is when its limits are pushed and its generally unnoted safety points come into play. While useful on the highway when used within its limits, ProPilot is also a strong safety item in its own right. This starts with the very stringent requirement that the driver remain engaged at the wheel. Taking hands off the wheel for more than a second or two results in the start of a cascading set of alerts and beeps meant to get the driver's hands back in position.
This starts with beeping and a simple "Hands On" alert on the driver's information display. The beeping becomes more intense and almost "crash, fail, game over" video game-like in intensity over the next few seconds. At about 12 to 13 seconds, the system will pump the brakes enough to jerk the vehicle a bit, which should wake a dozing driver who's somehow able to ignore the sounds emitting from the car. Braking continues and becomes more smooth as the flashers (four-way emergency lights) engage and the vehicle slows. It will eventually come to a complete stop within its lane.
On an interstate highway at 65+ mph (105+ km/h), stopping within your lane with the four-way flashers on is not the safest thing, but it sure beats rolling off the side at speed, doing a couple of barrel rolls, and coming to rest wrapped around a fence post. Should the driver be having a serious medical emergency, the former approach is a much better alternative to the latter.
We let the ProPilot Assist system go all the way to a full stop from 55 mph (89 km/h) a few times, testing what would happen if we didn't intervene or intervened at various points in the process. On an empty highway here in Wyoming, the system showed that it works as intended. Intervening at any point cancels the ProPilot's alerts and stopping process, resuming speed and continuing normally.
Our final assessment is that in normal, everyday driving, Nissan's new ProPilot Assist is a nice addition to adaptive cruise control. It has limits, but it doesn't take long for the driver to understand them and work with them. More importantly, though, ProPilot adds a safety dimension hitherto unseen in mass-produced vehicles. The ability to safely stop when things are really going wrong is a big deal. Ultimately, that is one of the major goals of self-driving vehicles: to reduce highway fatalities.
Currently, ProPilot Assist is available on the 2018 Nissan LEAF and the 2018 Nissan Rogue, and Nissan says that it will become available on other models within the next year.
Product Page: Nissan Intelligent Mobility