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Nissan unveils ProPILOT, its answer to Tesla's Autopilot

At a press conference today, Nissan announced that its ProPILOT semi-autonomous driving software will be available in Japan next month.

Back in 2014, Nissan provided a timeline for the rollout of its autonomous car technology. Today, the company proved that it's sticking to that timeline: at a press conference, Nissan announced that its ProPILOT semi-autonomous driving software will be available in Japan next month. 

Like Tesla's Autopilot, ProPILOT is designed for use under very specific circumstances--specifically, on highways at speeds ranging from about 20 mph to 60 mph. Nissan explains:

"ProPILOT is a revolutionary autonomous drive technology designed for highway use in single-lane traffic. Nissan is the first Japanese automaker to introduce a combination of steering, accelerator and braking that can be operated in full automatic mode, easing driver workload in heavy highway traffic and long commutes."

ProPILOT is turned on and off by drivers, using a switch on the steering wheel. Once it's activated, cameras begin keeping tabs on nearby traffic, as well as lane markers. ProPILOT accelerates and brakes to maintain the speed set by the driver, and it steers to keep the car in the center of the travel lane. 

ProPILOT will debut on the Serena van, which goes on sale in Japan in August. Other vehicles will follow, including the European version of the Qashqai in 2017. The technology is slated to arrive in the U.S. and China, too, though Nissan didn't offer a timeline for those rollouts.

Nissan also said that a similar technology capable of handling lane-changes will arrive in 2018. Software designed for city driving is slated for 2020. 

Like Autopilot, but with one key difference

From the description and video above, the similarities between ProPILOT and Autopilot might seem overwhelming. However, there's one key difference: according to Auto News, ProPILOT insists that drivers keep their hands on the wheel when the technology is engaged. 

ProPILOT makes use of sensors to determine whether a driver's hands are on the steering wheel. If they're not, a warning light is illuminated, followed by a series of warning chimes. If the driver still doesn't respond after a few seconds, the system turns itself off--safely, we assume.

This story originally appeared on The Car Connection.

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