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Are you ready for a car that drives itself?

Watch report from Action News
February 14, 2014 9:17:50 PM PST
The auto industry is on the verge of something big, and it could literally change the way you drive.

"Driving is very, very complicated. If we just think of all the things that we encounter on a daily basis," says John Capp, Director of Electronics and Cadillac Research.

Action News found one man who looked very relaxed with his hands off the wheel.

"Super cruise is a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane following," explained Eric Raphael, Super Cruise Active Safety Program Manager.

Get ready for the semi-self-driving car.

"Today's Cadillac for example, actually has 6 radars, 2 cameras, ultra-sonic sensors, and we're going to build on that and add even more perception capability," said John Capp.

GM calls it "super cruise" technology. The sensors will effectively put the car in control of its own speed and position on the road.

"The vehicle will steer and brake and control speed to the lanes and the other objects around," said Raphael.

Self-driving technology has been the Holy Grail for car makers for decades, dating back to the 1939 world's fair.

By the 1950's, the idea was a kind of flight control system on highways.

Now the thinking is onboard sensors and processors will handle the job. But there will be limitations.

Those sensors need ideal conditions. If snow covers the road, it's a no go.

Also driving is unpredictable; think of someone cutting you off, or stepping into the road.

"When your system encounters a situation that they aren't ready for does it, "gracefully degrade" or does it just collapse? You can't have that happen with a car," said Christopher Rasmussen.

Christopher Rasmussen is a University of Delaware professor who has developed sensory systems that allows robots to "see" what is in a vehicle's path.

"This little program here is basically just tracking a golf cart path, distinguishing the asphalt from the grass," explained Rasmussen.

It is one thing for a golf cart, another for a car hurdling along at 88 feet per second.

With that in mind GM is developing a feedback system to alert the human driver, and make sure the driver is paying attention in the automatic mode.

GM hopes to have super cruise on the market by 2020, until then, the system needs hundreds of thousands of miles of real world testing.

"To expose them to a very wide variety of circumstances so that we can be sure that by the time we get to production they will be really robust and safe," said Jeremy Salinger, GM Innovation Program Manager.

GM is one of several companies working on self-driving cars.

Google, yes the search engine and map giant, has also been at it for years with a roof mounted lazar radar system that maps in 3-dimensions. It hasn't said a lot about its progress, but has signaled it may sell what it's developing to car makers.


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