Thought we were mean to our intern when we had him sit in the truck bed holding on to boxes? Wait until you hear about what Nissan did with theirs. You see, there are some things that just require real-world human testing, and in the case of Nissan’s ProPilot Assist hands-on driver assist system, that meant having to put it through actual stop-go traffic jams – and who better to do it than their intern?
Meet Tyler Szymkowski, who was an engineering intern at Nissan back in 2018. His job scope? Check his phone every day for traffic jams. “Each day, I would look to see if it was a ‘good’ traffic day – and good for me meant bad traffic for most people,” he said.
When there’s a dark red line indicating the worst standstill traffic jams, that means it’s go time for Szymkowski, who would “race to the jam” and pretend to be happy while doing it – OK we added the last bit in, but we’d have to assume it wasn’t exactly pleasant to sit through bumper-to-bumper traffic every single day.
“Customers were telling us that three seconds wasn’t long enough,” said Nissan Senior Project Engineer Brittany Tessmer. “How long the system could sit and then re-engage to make the experience more seamless was something we needed to pinpoint. If three seconds isn’t long enough, then what is?”
Previously, the adaptive cruise control system was only capable of holding the vehicle stationary for three seconds before disengaging. If more than three seconds passed, the driver will need to tap the accelerator or press a button on the steering wheel to re-engage the system.
“I got a very realistic taste of what customers experience in major cities,” said Szymkowski. “There were hundreds of additional hours spent basically waiting for a traffic jam. I will say that sitting in traffic is a lot more tolerable when you’re intentionally getting something out of it. And it was really cool that Nissan was letting an intern have an impact on a new emerging technology.”
Throughout his internship, Szymkowski sat through a total of 64 standstill traffic jams in Los Angeles, Washington, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Francisco – or in other words, pretty much hell on earth. But thanks to his superhero levels of determination and mental strength, the critical data collected helped increase the stop-go hold time up to 30 seconds.
The updated ProPilot Assist system is now available on the all-new Nissan Rogue (X-Trail) and Pathfinder, which also includes the Navi-link feature that uses live navigation data to enhance the overall adaptive cruise control experience.
Fortunately, the torturous internship programme didn’t all go to waste, as he was hired as a full-time Nissan engineer after earning his engineering degree from Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He now works on human machine interface (HMI) topics, specialising on how the ProPILOT Assist system enhances the customer’s connection with their vehicle.
“That internship was absolutely critical because it gave me visibility and experience with ProPilot Assist, which still helps me do my job today” Szymkowski said. “One of the most exciting things about my current role is that I still have an impact on how advanced technologies best benefit our customers.”