Arab Today, arab today handsfree driving on gm\s test track
Last Updated : GMT 14:02:48
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Hands-free driving on GM\'s test track

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Arab Today, arab today Hands-free driving on GM\'s test track

London - Arabstoday

The late-model Cadillac SRX edges onto the track at the General Motors proving grounds. We build speed, following a low-slung sedan in front which acts as our pace car. We change lanes. The sedan cuts in front. Our SRX maintains distance and speed appropriately. At no time do we touch the brakes or the throttle, and only briefly do we need to turn the steering wheel. It\'s semiautonomous driving. And on this crisp spring morning, it\'s reality. Not in a production car, but it\'s headed that way, GM engineers say, perhaps by the end of the decade. This particular system is dubbed “super cruise control” by the gearheads behind the project, though they admit that the marketeers likely will have other, catchier names. We\'re sampling a so-called learning vehicle, which is where GM hooks up its latest technology to production cars to test the validity and, in general, learn how the cars work. There are just two of these prototypes in existence, though more likely will be built this year. Despite a touch of apprehension, “super cruise” works fine. It\'s as easy as pushing a few buttons and letting the car take over. Frankly, it\'s more complicated to decipher some nav systems than it is to make this SRX drive itself. Here\'s what happens. We get behind the wheel and accelerate to about 60 mph. Then we engage the feature by pushing a button on the left side of the steering wheel. That\'s essentially normal cruise control. Then there\'s another button on the right side that when pressed, activates the steering element. It\'s based on GPS data, so right now GM is simply programming a car to drive in circles on its property. But the system works. Easily. We\'re clipping along at expressway speeds while I have my hands folded in my lap. We turn. The steering wheel lights up green when it\'s driving and turns blue when the driver needs to take control. He or she can override this auto-pilot feature of sorts at any time. I was shocked by how relaxed I became as this luxury machine navigated a test oval a Milford. This is where GM flogs all kinds of performance machines, and I was doing it with no hands. “I like to think of it as cruise control for the steering,” GM active safety program manager Eric Raphael told us as we sat next to the loop. The system also features elements that allow the driver to modify lane position—essentially centering the vehicle—by elbowing the seat bolsters. Ultimately in production, the super cruise likely will be set at the touch of a single button. Futuristic as this sounds, none of it is really new. Other car companies and suppliers are hard at work developing similar concepts. GM even made a radar-detecting space-age concept back in 1959, called the Cadillac Cyclone. Interestingly, it is Harley Earl\'s last concept car. “We tend to find out that the idea was embodied in some [historic concept car],” said Alan Taub, GM vice president of global research and development. The idea is not to make an auto-driving car, not really, anyway. The goal is to allow a driver to take a step back—while still being alert and in control—in certain, safe situations. For example, slogging across the open roads of Nebraska might make the driver hungry. Or bored, or cranky. But say he or she decides to drive through Burger King and doesn\'t feel like stopping. Set the super cruise and let the Caddy chauffeur you toward the West Coast while you munch on the burger. At this point you still should be paying attention, but the car is compensating for your distracted presence. No, GM isn\'t advocating you popping in the fourth season of Mad Men. But think how often you see someone eating a supersized combo on your way home from work. Super cruise, or whatever it\'s ultimately called, could make that a bit safer.

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