Nissan launches ProPilot suite of auto driving functions

Nissan yesterday launched a suite of auto driving functions called ProPilot and announced that the new Serena minivan, which would go on sale in Japan in August, would be the first line of cars to include the technology, Reuters reported.

Nissan issued a press release detailing the how the system worked. ProPilot uses image-processing technology that helps drivers with ''highway use in single-lane traffic.'' Using information acquired through the camera, a car equipped with ProPilot could remain a set distance from the car in front, stop when other vehicles on the road slowed down, and could control steering around curves.

While Nissan noted the dangers of self-driving cars, it said the function was semi-autonomous and was not meant to be used without driver assistance. The driver gets an alert from ProPilot when his hands are off the steering wheel for over four seconds, for instance.

''These functions are meant to support drivers, and are not meant as self-driving capabilities,'' said executive vice president Hideyuki Sakamoto. ''These are two very different things.''

ProPilot also factors in weather conditions. According to Forbes, ProPilot does not work when the vehicle is driving under 50 kilometers per hour, or with the wipers on (so that it is not  affected by snowy or slippery roads).

According to Nissan the minivan will go on sale in Japan next month. Similar technology would be on offer later in China, the US and in the Qashqai sport-utility vehicle in Europe. Specific models were not disclosed for China and the US.

"The driver must assume full responsibility," said deputy general manager, Nissan Motor,  Atsushi Iwaki, a member of ProPilot's development team. "It is best to limit the function to helping the driver," AP reported.