Nissan cautiously introduces self-driving features after Tesla crash

Nissan has launched a suite of semi-autonomous driving functions, although it stressed they were intended to assist and not replace drivers.

The reserved announcement comes just two weeks after it was revealed similar technology used in a Tesla Model S was the culprit behind a fatal crash. 

Nissan new ProPilot feature is designed to drive a vehicle on single-lane motorways and navigate congestion. It will first appear on a Serena minivan model on sale in Japan from next month.

As global automakers race to develop self-driving cars, the safety of current automated systems was called into question by US investigators following the Tesla crash.

While Nissan declined to comment directly on that incident, executive vice president Hideyuki Sakamoto said it was important drivers did not overestimate the purpose and capabilities of automated driving functions.

"These functions are meant to support drivers, and are not meant as self-driving capabilities" which let drivers take their eyes off the road, he said. "These are two very different things."

Pushing a button on the steering wheel activates ProPilot, which keeps the vehicle a fixed distance from the car in front without requiring the driver to control the steering, accelerator or brake.

Like Tesla's similar technology, ProPilot requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. A warning sign flashes if the wheel is released for more than around four seconds, and an alarm sounds after 10 seconds.

General manager Tetsuya Iijima at Nissan's Advanced Technology Development department said it was 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," he said.

With ProPilot, Nissan joins many automakers, including Tesla, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, in marketing adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assistance.

Nissan will sell its ProPilot-equipped Serena for under 3 million yen (£21,500), making it one of few mid-priced vehicles with autopilot features more common among luxury cars.

The automaker also plans to add ProPilot to Qashqai sport utility vehicle crossover models in coming months, and introduce the feature in the USA and China.

Nissan continues to aim for autonomous multiple-lane driving, including lane changes, by 2018, and functions for full urban driving, including intersection turns, by 2020.

The company demonstrated its self-driving technology last November but many of the first passengers noted the system’s excessively cautious driving style.

The increasing integration of digital and autonomous technology into consumer vehicles is set to become a contentious issue with regards to the legal and insurance implications.

The UK government launched a consultation on Monday that is designed to help pave the way for automated cars to be used on British roads prior to proposed changes to the Highway Code. 

Meanwhile, BMW and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have come to blows over ‘misleading’ claims that its high-beam headlight technology prevented oncoming drivers from being dazzled.

The radio advert for the BMW 1 series said its High Beam Assist technology meant ‘oncoming traffic is never dazzled and you can keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road’.

The ASA upheld a complaint that the claim was misleading and exaggerated the technology's capabilities.

BMW UK said High Beam Assist illuminated the road at night with full beam but a sensor located in the rear-view mirror holder monitored oncoming traffic and immediately adjusted the beam when necessary.

The system detected oncoming traffic at up to 1,000m and traffic ahead by up to 400m on straight roads.

It was possible that there would be a delay of approximately 600 milliseconds to one second if a vehicle approached from a curve while the sensor detected the lights of the oncoming car and turned down the high beam.

BMW believed the delay was not long enough for oncoming traffic to be dazzled but the ASA argued that consumers were likely to interpret the ‘oncoming traffic is never dazzled’ as absolute.

It added: "We considered that a second of full-beam light could potentially dazzle an oncoming driver at short distances, for example on a sharp bend.

"Because of that, we considered that the claim 'oncoming traffic is never dazzled' had not been substantiated and was misleading."

It ruled that the advert must not be broadcast again in its current form, adding: "We told BMW to ensure that in future their ads did not exaggerate the capability of the High Beam Assist technology."

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