New and complicated technology takes time, and this lag feeds the naysayers. The New York Times in December 1903 essentially called attempts at heavier than air flight a waste of time, one week before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Likewise, on 3 January I read in the Guardian: ‘Peak hype’: why the driverless car revolution has stalled.
Yet Nissan plans to launch 20 new models with some level of automated driving capability by 2023. This means all Nissans will feature automated driving by then. But note the use of automated rather than self-driving. This technology is developed and introduced in incremental steps, evolution rather than revolution. Yet self-driving is at the forefront of an intense tech war between carmakers. These battles in the war include longer battery range and quicker charging, more computing power in the car and better interfaces with the driver, including Top Gun heads-up displays.
The electric vehicle (EV) was the major driver in the recent evolution of the car. It required tech-intensive development to take it from potential to practical. And new technology incubates further innovation and the process speeds up. Nissan was among the EV pioneers, resulting in the LEAF in 2010, the first mass-produced battery-EV. It is noteworthy that the Nissan LEAF is still in production, albeit in a new generation with 2021-level range and features. This is an example of technological evolution.
Like EVs, self-driving is compelling tech. Nissan’s first commercial step was ProPILOT 1 in 2016. This allowed, among other things, your Nissan to automatically follow the car in front of you on the highway. ProPILOT 1 will become standard in all more affordable Nissan models.
The more advanced ProPILOT 2.0 will be fitted to more advanced vehicles, such as the new Nissan Ariya EV crossover SUV. The 2.0 will be the first system that will combine navigated highway driving with hands-off single-lane driving. By 2023, Nissan should sell 1.5 million ProPILOT-fitted vehicles per year.
So how does hands-off single-lane driving equate with self-driving? There are two things to keep in mind here: The technology is growing step by step, and the 2.0 suffix on the latest ProPILOT. What will ProPILOT 2.1 or 2.2 look like?
A gaze into the future may start with the six levels of autonomous driving that set the standard:
- Level 1 is what most of us drive now, where you have to do everything
- Level 2 has some lane-keeping and other driver-assist – ProPILOT 1
- Level 3 gives you hands-free, but you still have to sit behind the wheel and keep alert – ProPILOT 2.0
- Level 4 will allow you to take a nap in the back and the car will pull over if need be.
- Level 5 will do away with the driver altogether, so self-driving.
You can see that ProPILOT 2.0 is already at Level 3. We don’t know what 2.1 will be. Will it be somewhere between Levels 2 and 3 or will that be 3? Time will tell, but you could be among the first to know when you subscribe to our newsletter.