Originally teasing consumers in 2012 that its Cadillac “Super Cruise” semi-autonomous vehicles could be available in the middle of this decade, General Motors (GM) has bumped the date back to “later this decade,” but the carmaker is still making substantial strides in the next technological evolution of vehicles.
Many of the principles behind the semi-automated driving system are already deployed as options in Cadillac’s ATS, XTS, and revamped SRX models. These include features such as cameras, sensors, automatic breaking, adaptive cruise control, and safety alert seat (a pulse on the driver’s thigh when a stationary or moving object is sensed in close proximity).
Super Cruise takes it to the next level by marrying radar, ultrasonic sensors, cameras and GPS map data to deliver a car with full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane centering and more to allow the driver to take their hands off the wheel and foot off the pedals whether in bumper-to-bumper traffic or rolling down the highway. Effectively, the car is driving itself and keeping a 360 degree watch on what’s going on around it.
The company still cautions that Super Cruise is not a replacement for a driver; it’s an enhancement that still requires the driver’s attention. The system has operational limits that can be affected by things like weather and visibility of lane markings. Sorry, folks, no sleeping at the wheel. GM says the system will alert the driver when external factors require the driver to take back control.
GM is also concerned that drivers will engage in secondary tasks during semi-automated driving. With this in mind, the company is developing techniques to moderate those behaviors and keep the driver focused on what the car is doing.
“Super Cruise is designed to give the driver the ability of hands-free driving when the system determines it is safe to do so,” said John Capp, GM director of Global Active Safety Electronics and Innovation, in a statement earlier this week. “Before we introduce this capability on a production vehicle we must put the system through rigorous testing and technology refinement.”
And that’s where GM is now.
The company has been testing its technology in state-of-the-art driving simulators in a wide array of computer-generated automated driving situations, on closed courses and has now taken the car to the streets in the next stage of R&D to help refine the technology.
“As we continually upgrade Super Cruise’s enabling technologies, it is important to expose the updated system to different environments,” said Jeremy Salinger, R&D manager for Super Cruise. “The best way to achieve reliable performance is to gather as much data as possible in the conditions our customers will experience.”
The luxury carmaker is not alone on the highway to self-driving cars. Google (GOOG) has been at it for years as well, saying in October 2010 that its version had logged more than 140,000 miles of self-driving at that point. Much like GM, the search engine giant turned motor engine wannabe says that safety is the motivation behind its cutting-edge vehicles, not driver replacement.
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