The self-driving car may still seem the stuff of science fiction, but the technology to make this real is actually close than you think. After Google revealed its work on self-driving vehicles, U.S. carmaker General Motors announced that it has already successfully tested semi-autonomous driving technology on a Cadillac.
But this doesn’t mean the Super Cruise system is ready to go. The technology still has to undergo extensive testing, and Cadillac expects it to be ready for widespread use within the next decade. So far, GM tested the Super Cruise on closed courses and sophisticated driving stimulators, with plans to take it out on real roads very soon.
The Super Cruise is actually a complex system of radar, cameras, ultrasonic sensors and GPS map data. The technology is capable of various semi-autonomous driving operations, such as lane following, speed control and braking. For the time being, the system is designed to work on freeways only, either on long road trips or in traffic jams, but it still requires the driver’s attention. If the road is covered by snow or affected by inadequate maintenance, the system will not work.
For lane centering and orientation, the system uses the GPS map data, but also forward-looking cameras and other sensors to detect markings, curves in the road and other road characteristics. The Super Cruise is also provided with an alert system to communicate with the drivers in order to make sure they are still paying attention to the road.
The technology is based on already existing features of the Driver Assist Package on some models, such as for instance, the safety alert seat which lets drivers know if they’re drifting out of their lane by vibrating their seat.
But General Motors and Cadillac are not the only auto manufacturers exploring the possibility of autonomous driving technology. Ford already has an adaptive cruise control that is able to keep a designated distance from the vehicles ahead and an automatic parking feature. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are also developing similar systems.
GM said the Super Cruise may be available by 2020. Until then, the researchers will continue testing the technology for various lighting and weather conditions and will also try to find ways to make it more autonomous so as to require less attention from the driver.