Nissan certainly picked an odd time to announce its ProPilot semi-autonomous driving system. Just two weeks ago, it was revealed that Tesla’s Autopilot system was involved in a fatal crash that killed 40-year-old Joshua Brown when his Model S collided with a tractor-trailer in Williston, Fla.
ProPilot not only sounds like AutoPilot, but it also uses Mobileye processing a mono-camera sensor – the same as Tesla’s Autopilot, which has been involved in a total of three crashes since May 7, 2016.
When initiated with the press of a button on the steering wheel, the ProPilot single-lane, highway driving system will keep your vehicle a fixed distance from the car in front without requiring the driver to control the steering, accelerator or brake.
ProPilot requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. A warning sign flashes if the wheel is released for more than four seconds, and ProPilot reportedly will soon after deactivate if the driver doesn’t replace their hands upon the wheel.
Nissan ProPilot will debut in Japan in August 2016, followed by Europe in 2017 and the US and China after that. ProPilot is part of a three-step plan for Nissan to have self-driving cars available in 2020. The next step aims to have an autonomous, lane-changing car by 2018.
Here’s where it gets dicey. Nissan EVP Hideyuki Sakamoto initially declined comment about the fatal Tesla crash when asked by a Nikkei reporter about how ProPilot compares to Autopilot. However, Sakamoto eventually took the bait and said that ProPilot “should function correctly.” When Tesla Autopilot was introduced, chief executive Elon Musk said the system was “almost twice as good” as human drivers.
General Manager Tetsuya Iijima at Nissan’s Advanced Technology Development department told Reuters that it is up to automakers to educate drivers about the capability of automated driving functions to prevent misuse that could lead to accidents. “Naturally, there are limitations to the system, and our job is to communicate what those limitations are.”
But Nissan is already setting a bad example. Reuters ran seven photos with its report about ProPilot, including the following two that show Reuters auto correspondent Maki Shiraki and a Nissan employee test driving a Serena minivan on ProPilot with their hands off the wheel.
Again, ProPilot will deactivate if your hands are off the steering wheel for an extended time, but what if you’re not in a position to re-take the wheel after ProPilot disengages? Promotional pictures like this almost encourage ProPilot users to take their hands off the wheel, no?
Tesla explained to its customers the semi-autonomous nature of Autopilot, but some drivers still trusted the system more than they should’ve. Just check out this driver sleeping behind the wheel while his Model X is on Autopilot:
Nissan said it will make sure dealers inform drivers of ProPilot’s limitations and ensure they understand it’s not a self-driving car. But Tesla did that, too. The few people who didn’t adhere to Tesla’s warnings and abused Autopilot might not be representative of how the technology was used by the majority of people, but Autopilot clearly isn’t ready for the streets. Especially since Mobileye acknowledged that the system was never designed to avoid the situation that lead to the fatal crash.
Why should we believe ProPilot is ready?