Nissan just launched its first salvo of semi-autonomous driving software, ProPilot, worldwide in vehicles such as the new 2018 Nissan Leaf and 2018 Nissan Rogue, but the ProPilot of today is a long way from what ProPilot of tomorrow needs to be. To show the steps it’s taking to get there, Nissan took me for a ride through Tokyo in an autonomous Infiniti Q50 Hybrid to show off the capabilities of its future ProPilot system.
Before I dive into the autonomous Q50, a quick word on the levels of autonomy: according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), there are five levels of autonomy, aptly named levels one through five. It’s really easy to get into the weeds on what differentiates each level, so here’s a quick trick to keep it all straight. Level 1 is hands-on (think radar cruise control and no lane assist aids), Level 2 is hands-off (radar cruise control and an active lane keep assist system such as Tesla’s AutoPilot or Nissan’s current ProPilot system); Level 3 is eyes-off (the 2019 Audi A8’s Traffic Jam Pilot is the world’s first production example of this); Level 4 is mind-off (you can nap, read, play games); and Level 5 is full-autonomy (the car doesn’t need pedals, a steering wheel, or even a human in it).
The Infiniti Q50 ProPilot prototype I rode shotgun in is, for all intents and purposes, a Level 4 autonomous car. It still needs a human in the driver seat—in this case Tetsuya Iijima, the Nissan engineer leading the company’s autonomous charge—ready to intervene “just in case,” but it’s capable of driving from point to point with zero human intervention.
Iijima-san says the Q50 Hybrid was selected for the ProPilot prototype for practical purposes; the trunk full of computers and wires running the 12 sonars, 12 cameras, nine radars, six lasers, the high-definition mapping software accurate within 30 cm, and driving the car sucks up a lot of juice—1.5 kw worth, to be exact. The electrical demands of the system, plus the linearity of the Q50’s V-6 and electric motor combo, meant it was an easy choice.