Photo/IllutrationAn artist's rendition of a Nissan Skyline that enables hands-free driving on the highway, as long as the driver pays attention to the road and is ready to grab the steering wheel (Provided by Nissan Motor Co.)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Nissan Motor Co. announced on May 16 that its luxurious Skyline will debut hands-free highway driving this fall, making it the first domestic automaker to sell cars using the technology in Japan.

“This technology is the highest level in the world. It cannot be exceeded easily,” said Tetsuya Iijima, who has led Nissan’s efforts to develop advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous driving technologies.

The new system enables hands-free driving while cruising in a single lane on a highway. Once the driver sets a speed, the car keeps cruising and the system takes care of steering, accelerating and braking automatically.

Hands-free driving continues as long as the driver's attention stays on the road. A camera equipped inside the car continually monitors the driver to make sure they are looking ahead.

An alarm goes off if the driver continuously looks away or closes their eyes. The car then makes an emergency stop if the driver doesn't return their gaze to the road.

If the system detects that the car is getting too close to a slower vehicle ahead, the driver receives lane change suggestions on the monitor.

The driver also gets lane change suggestions on the monitor, when the system determines it's necessary to switch lanes to reach a destination.

Drivers change lanes by flicking a switch, but they have to put their hands on the wheel while doing so.

The functions were made possible by incorporating a car navigation system that uses detailed digital maps.

Nissan said it plans to sell Skylines featuring the new system overseas in the future, but they will be released in Japan first.

Other Nissan models will eventually be equipped with the hands-free system but the details of which models will feature it and when they will be on the market have yet to be determined.

Some vehicles sold in Japan already have autonomous highway driving functions, as foreign and domestic automakers have achieved practical use of the feature in steering, accelerating and braking. But none features a function for hands-free highway driving.

Nissan’s new system has been approved by the transport ministry, partly because the firm implemented a camera to monitor the driver’s eye line.

The race to develop automated driving technologies has been rapidly intensifying.

Germany’s BMW has announced that it plans to sell a vehicle in Japan this summer that enables hands-free driving on highways only when the highway is jammed.

Toyota Motor Corp. has introduced a function that allows a car to make a lane change autonomously.