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Self-Driving Cars Get New Tech Thanks to Nissan’s ProPILOT System

Nissan announced that it’s making huge strides toward self-driving cars with the release of its new Serena, but it does so with added reminders about the safety of autonomous driving.

The minivan, which should be available in Japan in late August, will be outfitted with the company’s ProPILOT autonomous-drive technology. Nissan says the cutting-edge tech offers convenience and peace of mind during single-lane highway driving.  The technology will be available in the U.S. at a later time.

Nissan is the first Japanese carmaker to introduce a combination of steering, accelerating and braking that can be operated in full automatic mode, easing a driver’s workload during intense highway traffic and heavy commutes.

The ProPILOT system understands road and traffic situations and steers the vehicle with precision. The tech is operated by a switch on the steering wheel that allows the driver to easily activate and deactivate the system.

The automaker stresses that, while the autonomous driving feature does let drivers take their hands off the wheel, it doesn’t tolerate hands-free driving. A sensor on the Serena’s steering column knows whether a hand is controlling the car. If it doesn’t sense one, a warning light illuminates. If the driver still doesn’t take hold of the steering wheel, a beeper goes off. And if there is still no grip for several more seconds, the self-driving feature shuts down.

Nissan executives were emphatic about automakers taking the initiative in warning drivers about the limitations of self-driving cars. The safety of autonomously driving systems has come under immense scrutiny following a May crash of a Tesla Model S in Florida.

“We need to send out much stronger warnings as our technology becomes more advanced,” Executive Vice President Hideyuki Sakamoto said during a news conference at Nissan’s global headquarters. “Improving safety and functionality have to come as a set.”

The company plans to build upon ProPILOT with a more advanced system due around 2018 that will allow automated driving across multiple lanes.

Nissan joins several other automakers with comparable technology. Cadillac will have a similar system in the CT6, and Volvo has a system called Pilot Assist.

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