Cadillac To Launch Semi-autonomous Car

GM’s Mary Barra teases audience in recent speech. 

It looks like the brave new world of autonomous driving has moved a step closer with the announcement by General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, during a recent speech; as of 2017, Cadillac’s will come with the option of Super Cruise Control that will enable cars fitted with it to cruise on the highway without being steered by a driver.

Mary Barra made the announcement during a speech at the annual Intelligent Transport Systems Congress in Detroit. The move by GM, the largest supply of trucks and cars in the US, was seen as putting them in pole position in the race to develop and manufacture autonomous cars. Although there was no news on which model would be equipped with the technology, it is known that within two years, GM will become the first automaker to equip a model with the so-called vehicle-to-vehicle technology (V2V) that enables the car to communicate with other autos with similar abilities, to warn of traffic hazards and improve road safety.

GM will make the V2V feature standard on its 2017 Cadillac CTS sedan, debuting in the second half of 2016, Barra said. The Super Cruise feature will be on a different Cadillac model and goes beyond similar technology available on some Mercedes-Benz models that operates only at low speeds.

“With Super Cruise, when there’s a congestion alert on roads like California’s Santa Monica Freeway, you can let the car take over and drive hands-free and feet-free through the worst stop-and-go traffic around,” Barra said in the speech at Cobo Center. “If the mood strikes you on the high-speed road from Barstow, California, to Las Vegas, you can take a break from the wheel and pedals and let the car do the work. Having it done for you – that’s true luxury.”

V2V technology is something that will be coming to every driver if the NHTSA gets their way and they are currently working on a plan that would compel all cars sold in the USA to have it. Currently, the NHTSA plan does not include controlling the vehicles braking or steering as the new Cadillac version does, but even with a simplified version, they estimate that about 80% of the 30,000 highway fatalities each year could be avoided.

“By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go while ensuring that the US remains the leader in the global automotive industry,” said US Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx.

Industry analysts believe that Cadillac are trying to enter a market segment that they have been having trouble competing in, and one that is currently dominated by the likes of Mercedes and Lexus, both of whom already have a swathe of autonomous driver aids.

Of course there will be sceptics out there who, and particularly in light of all the recalls that major automakers have suffered of late, will doubt the technology. In part, this issue has already been identified but it will probably still take a while for the average consumer to be confident with the new technology. Barra actually was quoted as saying after her speech that GM faced a tough time perfecting the technology.

“It’s critical that it works flawlessly every single time,” Barra told reporters. “When you look at what has got to come together to make this happen – not just for straight driving on a section of highway, but for every city situation you can imagine – there’s quite a bit of technology that has to come together to make this work.”

Global carmakers are racing to develop self-driving cars in the hope that it will solve the growing problem of global gridlock and help reduce traffic fatalities. There are now more than 1.1 billion vehicles on the road worldwide, Jon Lauckner, GM’s Chief Technology Officer, told reporters in Detroit yesterday. A recent NHTSA study estimated the economic and societal impact of car crashes in the US to be more than US$870 billion a year.

“We’re rolling out active safety technology today. We’re not going to wait until we have a driverless vehicle that can work in 100 percent of situations,” Lauckner said. “There’s a lot that can be done before we get to the perfect driverless technology.”

We do not find that statement particularly reassuring.


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