Nissan’s deputy general manager has some faith in the ProPilot system (Image: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP)

With all the criticism recently surrounding self-driving cars, you might think it’s a strange move for Nissan to announce some news regarding its own system. Well, it is, but the company is aware.

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According to Reuters, the car company launched a suite of auto driving functions on Wednesday called ProPilot and announced that the new Serena minivan, which will go on sale in Japan in August, will be the first line of cars to include the technology.

Nissan issued a press release that details how the system works. ProPilot uses image-processing technology that can assist drivers with “highway use in single-lane traffic.” Through information acquired through the camera, a car equipped with ProPilot can remain a set distance from the car in front, stop when other vehicles on the road slow down, and can control steering around curves.

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While Nissan didn’t comment on the recent Tesla problems, it did note the dangers of self-driving cars, stating that the function is semi-autonomous and isn’t meant to be used without driver assistance. ProPilot alerts the driver when hands are off the steering wheel for more than four seconds, for example.

“These functions are meant to support drivers, and are not meant as self-driving capabilities,”said Executive Vice President Hideyuki Sakamoto. “These are two very different things.”

ProPilot is also very cautious about the elements. According to Forbes, ProPilot doesn’t work when the vehicle is driving under 50 kilometers per hour, or when the wipers are on (so that it isn’t affected by snowy or slippery roads).

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Nissan added that the system will be introduced into the Qashqai line in Europe in 2017. There are also plans for manufacturing in US and Chinese markets.

This seems like bad timing on Nissan’s part, although it nudging its audience a bit in regards to recent negative press is its way of covering its tracks. And while we won’t know if the system works until it’s out on the market, the company’s emphasis on how drivers should use it is helpful.

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Self-driving cars as we know them aren’t exactly fully autonomous. Drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain focus with the road. These systems are there to aid drivers and potentially increase road safety. Tesla also reminds drivers using Autopilot to “always keep your hands on the wheel,” but whether people do that is another issue entirely.

The technology doesn’t seem to take into account what drivers may do following an AI’s decision on the road, nor does it fully protect against what other cars may do.

This is just something else to watch as self-driving cars become more available to consumers and as the technology improves (or doesn’t). Meanwhile, remember to keep your hands on the wheel; at 10 and two.

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[Reuters, Forbes]