Hands-off driving: the result of a 20-year pursuit of safety

How decades of safety technology development led to Nissan's ProPILOT 2.0 advanced driver assistance system

Dec 18, 2019
  • Products & Technology

When the new Nissan Skyline went on sale in Japan last July, customers and the media immediately took notice of the car’s unique “wow” factor – hands-off driving, enabled by the new ProPILOT 2.0 system.

The award-winning advanced driver assistance system lets drivers take their hands off the wheel under certain conditions in a single lane on supported highways in Japan*. It also assists the driver with traveling on a multi-lane highway until reaching a predetermined exit, helping handle passing and lane changes.

But creating a “wow” factor wasn’t Nissan’s goal. The hands-off feature is just one result of safety development that dates back to the 1990s.

“Our team started the development of ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) technology 20 years ago,” explains Tetsuya Iijima, general manager of autonomous driving and ADAS at Nissan, whose team developed ProPILOT 2.0. “And in the first 10 years, we were mostly focusing on the driver assistance technology to help avoid accidents.“

Tetsuya Iijima, Nissan’s general manager of autonomous driving and advanced driver assistance systems, with the new Nissan Skyline

In 1999, Nissan introduced adaptive cruise control, which helps prevent rear-end collisions by reducing the car’s speed when it approaches the vehicle ahead. In 2004, Nissan was the first carmaker to introduce a lane departure warning system. This evolved into a lane departure prevention system that physically helps the driver maneuver their car back into its lane. Neither was intended to wow customers – they were simply meant to help avoid collisions due to driver inattention or in emergency situations.

Nissan’s advanced driver assistance systems and years of introduction
1990s 2000s 2010s
1999: Intelligent cruise control 2001: Lane keeping assist1
2004: Lane departure warning
2004: Intelligent brake assist
2007: Around View Monitor1
2007: Lane departure prevention
2009: Forward collision warning
2010: Blind spot warning
2010: Blind spot warning
2010: Blind spot intervention1
2011: Moving object detection1
2012: Emergency assist for pedal misapplication1
2012: Back-up intervention1
2013: Intelligent emergency braking
2013: Predictive forward collision warning1
2013: Intelligent parking assist
2013: Active lane control1
2014: Rear cross traffic alert
2016: ProPILOT1
2017: ProPILOT Park
2019: ProPILOT 2.01

1 World’s first at time of introduction

Iijima’s team went further, pursuing driver safety and peace of mind in non-emergency situations as well. “We shifted to more integrated driver assistance systems,” he says. Such systems assist in multiple tasks leading to a safe and comfortable overall driving experience.

The first-generation ProPILOT (called ProPILOT Assist in North America), first launched in 2016, is an outcome of this effort. Currently available in select models in Japan, the U.S., China and parts of Europe, it assists with steering, acceleration and braking in a single lane. The technology works in tandem with the driver, providing peace of mind and helping reduce fatigue behind the wheel.

“We drew a realistic roadmap to deliver more sophisticated and trustworthy technologies step by step,” Iijima says. “That’s the reason we came to this point faster than anyone else.”

With the driver’s hands on the wheel, the first-generation ProPILOT enables vehicles to operate autonomously during single-lane driving on the highway

Getting advanced safety technologies to customers early and receiving their feedback helped Nissan in its continued pursuit of driver safety and comfort. Iijima’s team also carried out field tests in San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and Tokyo starting in 2013. “These experiences gave us rich information that helped us expand the technology’s capabilities,” he explains.

The launch of the new Nissan Skyline with ProPILOT 2.0 marked another major milestone for these efforts. The car comes with five cameras including one trifocal camera, five radars, and 12 sonars for a 360-degree, real-time picture of the vehicle’s surroundings. The system combines this with high-definition 3D map data that covers the number of lanes, merging and split points and intersections to provide a smooth driving experience. Going beyond the original ProPILOT, the second-generation system also supports lane changes and hands-free driving under certain conditions.

“After 20 years, we’ve come to a certain point where the driver can trust the system and allow it to support major parts of driving on the freeway,” Iijima says. “ProPILOT 2.0 integrates a whole set of new technologies that required support from other suppliers – like a high-definition map provider and a sensing technology provider. So, this is really a collaboration.”

ProPILOT 2.0 enables hands-off driving while cruising in a given lane as long as the driver’s attention is on the road ahead and the driver is ready to take over when required.*

All of this work has led to ProPILOT 2.0 – a safe and reliable system that allows the driver to take their hands off the wheel. Still, it isn’t the end of the journey.

“Our team always gets a bit overwhelmed when starting to work on entirely new technology,” Iijima says. “However, when we complete development and see it benefiting customers, we gain new confidence and energy to go to the next step.”

Watch the interview with Tetsuya Iijima here:

Click below to see infographic showing how ProPILOT 2 works:

  • A national expressway as prescribed by the National Expressway Act. A limited highway as prescribed by the Road Act. Hands-off driving is possible when driving in a single lane, on the condition that the driver remains attentive on the road ahead and is prepared to immediately take manual control of the steering wheel when conditions of the road, traffic and vehicle require it. The hands-off feature is not available in tunnels where a GPS signal cannot be established, on expressways that have two-way traffic, on winding roads, in tollgate areas or merging lanes. When entering a road section where hands-off driving is not available, the system will alert in advance so the driver can take manual control of vehicle steering.
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