For General Motors, the immediate future of autonomous driving isn't about letting car owners trust their vehicles to drive themselves all the time, but rather occasionally being able to remove their hands from the wheel and let the car take over.
That future arrives this fall in the form of the Super Cruise feature on the Cadillac CT6. By combining inputs from cameras and radar sensors mounted on the luxury sedan's body with a precision map database, the CT6 will control its speed and keep itself in the center of a lane during highway driving.
Although you may not need to keep your hands on the wheel while Super Cruise is active, it's far from a set-it-and-forget-it technology. It's actually watching you almost as closely as it's monitoring the road ahead: the system includes a camera and infrared lights mounted directly onto the steering column to observe where you're looking at all times.
If Super Cruise determines you're not paying attention to the road, it will trigger a system of alerts: visual indicators in the instrument cluster, tactile alerts such as seat vibrations and audible warning tones. If you still ignore it maybe you're fast asleep, or engrossed in a game on your smartphone -- Super Cruise will bring the car to a complete stop as soon as it's safe to do so.
"When we were developing Super Cruise we knew it was important to keep the driver engaged during operation," engineer Barry Walkup said in a statement. "That's why we've added a driver attention function, to insist on driver supervision."
Super Cruise bears a close resemblance to the Tesla Autopilot feature, which can also take over steering and speed control while requiring the driver to stay alert. Neither system would be possible without super-accurate mapping databases, which allow the car to pinpoint its exact location without relying on often-fickle GPS signals.
GM says its database contains map data for every mile of limited-access highway in the U.S. and Canada, obtained using Lidar sensors. It's four to eight times more accurate than GPS signals.
Ahead of the New York Auto Show, the luxury automaker announced that it’s piloting a new service called Lincoln Chauffeur. Currently available only in Miami, it allows owners of Lincoln vehicles to hail drivers to chauffeur them around.
Owners may not want to drive themselves for a number of reasons: They may want to avoid looking for parking or paying steep fees to leave their car at the airport during a trip. They may want their car returned to their home after their driver drops them off so someone else in their household can use it. They may even need a designated driver service and request that a Lincoln driver retrieve them and their car after an evening of drinking, according to Autoblog.
It’s a solution for Lincoln owners who don’t want to allow their high-end vehicle to sit in their garages when it’s not convenient for them to drive and who don’t want to settle for an unfashionable, inexclusive cab, Uber or Lyft.
The services Lincoln Chauffeur will provide won’t be limited to driving, however. The drivers will also be on call to run errands for users, such as pumping gas, picking up kids and buying groceries. They may even become personal assistants over time, as satisfied users will be able to request the same driver repeatedly.