Nissan is about to offer a semiautonomous feature that’s quite like Tesla’s Autopilot. Not only does it sound like it—“ProPilot”—it also depends on a mono-camera sensor and on Mobileye processing.
Nissan is working very hard to emphasize the “semi” part of the word “semiautonomous,” billing ProPilot as an improved form of cruise control—not as a robotic chauffeur that’s “almost twice as good as a person.” That’s what Tesla honcho Elon Musk said of Autopilot on 25 April, 12 days before a Tesla Model S under Autopilot control crashed into a truck, killing the car’s driver. It was the first fatality attributed to a modern, self-driving car.
Even Tesla has required drivers to hit the turn signal to trigger Autopilot’s automatic lane-changing feature. But Musk, at once a futurist and a salesman, has always had trouble restraining his own tendency to hype things.
With the Nissan, push a button and ProPilot maintains a fixed distance to the car in front of you, keeping within the lane and braking when necessary. Take your hands off the steering wheel, and it will nag you to put them back; ignore the nagging, and the system will cut off.
“Naturally, there are limitations to the system, and our job is to communicate what those limitations are,” said Nissan General Manager Tetsuya Iijima, Reuters reports.
And Nissan customers are about as different from Tesla’s as you can get. ProPilot will initially be offered only in Japan, on the Nissan Serena, a staid and practical minivan. Tesla’s cars are feline, earth-clawing performance cars, and their mostly American drivers are, as you’d expect, a rather adventurous breed, to judge by the Youtube videos they post.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.