Imagine yourself driving along a lonely highway with only a few other cars on the road. You have quite a ways to go and you engage cruise control. For many years there have been systems that will allow that cruise control to sped up or slow down a bit if a car ahead is changing its speed a little bit, such as on the approach to a hill, or on the way down a hill. Would you also like to have a system that will steer the car you are in to follow the lane and to make turns as the road turns? Now imagine yourself in bumper to bumper traffic on the way to work. We all know how frustrating that can be. Would you like a system that allows the car to take over and drive the route to work in that scenario? Cadillac thinks you do.
Cadillac is developing a new type of cruise control that will allow drivers to cruise hands-free, meaning they don’t have to steer. Dubbed “Super Cruise” this will be the first fully autonomous driving style that we drivers will experience. We already have systems that take the wheel to park for us and also to brake for us in certain emergency situations. Soon we will have a system that takes the wheel during the bulk of our miles driven, instead of just these certain unique situations.
Super-Cruise uses currently available technology and integrates it into a fully autonomous driving package. Using radar, cameras that can judge distance, GPS data and ultrasonic sensors (just to say it again, we already have all of this technology in our cars), the Super Cruise system will take over during the parts of our drive Cadillac says we don’t enjoy. Cadillac also claims that the driver’s attention will still be required. That sounds like liability management to us, but, either way, the system will allow users to let the car take over control of the drive. Daniel Glaser, GM Safety Center engineering specialist explains the risks saying, “Drivers may be tempted to engage in secondary tasks during semi-automated driving, and we need to make sure we understand the changing conditions. In our simulator studies we are developing techniques to manage secondary task behavior to assist in our development of techniques for the road.”
Indeed, if we cannot engage in secondary tasks as Mr. Glaser calls it, what is the point of not being in control of the car? Wouldn’t drivers immediately pick up their tablet and get caught up on some work if the car was driving along a lonely stretch of highway by itself? In order to understand the risks and benefits Cadillac is undertaking an enormous project to gather understanding of all the parameters. John Capp, GM director of Global Active Safety Electronics and Innovation said, “Super Cruise is designed to give the driver the ability of hands-free driving when the system determines it is safe to do so. Before we introduce this capability on a production vehicle we must put the system through rigorous testing and technology refinement.”
In the coming years, our vehicles will be able to drive themselves in more and more scenarios. Now that we have autonomous parking assist and autonomous braking we can no longer pretend that cars that drive themselves aren't a future possibility.