TOKYO — Nissan Motor has upped the autonomous driving ante. The company on Wednesday became Japan’s first automaker to release a vehicle capable of maneuvering itself, albeit only in a single expressway lane. And it opted to introduce the technology in a family car, rather than a high-end model.

This Nissan Serena minivan can drive itself within in a single highway lane.
This Nissan Serena minivan can drive itself within in a single highway lane.

In giving its Serena minivan the first major update in six years, Nissan included a system it calls ProPilot. A camera affixed inside the windshield measures the distance to the car ahead and judges the vehicle’s position within the lane.

The system can negotiate curves and assist drivers in slow-moving traffic, but it cannot change lanes and only works under certain conditions. In any case, this is the first time a Japanese automaker has used such a system to control acceleration, braking and steering.

Comparable technologies are already available in luxury cars from automakers such as Tesla Motors of the U.S. and Daimler of Germany. ProPilot comes standard in a limited-edition Serena that starts at 2.91 million yen ($29,000).

Nissan said it hopes to boost slumping domestic sales by offering a family car with cutting-edge tech.

According to Japan’s four-level grading system for self-driving technology, ProPilot sits at level 2. The higher the level, the less a driver has to be involved, with level 4 representing completely autonomous driving.

At level 2, the driver is still responsible for maneuvering the vehicle. Still, Nissan said its system significantly reduces the risk of accidents arising from carelessness and driver error.



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