GM Promises Self Driving Cadillac

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GM announced Sunday that it is expecting to release a driverless vehicle by 2017, which is welcome news, considering how Google has yet to give a concrete date for their driverless cars. 

Still, technologically speaking, GM’s cars don’t really seem to be in the same league as Google’s. In fact, it might be a stretch to call them “driverless” at all.

GM’s driverless car focuses on two main technologies: Super Cruise and V2V.

Super Cruise is just what it sounds like: essentially an advanced version of cruise control. It’s something that you can use when you’re either going on long drives or you’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Essentially, Super Cruise allows you to pick a lane, press a button, and let the car take over. From that point on, your vehicle will follow the vehicle directly in front of it, speeding up, slowing down, and even braking when necessary. GM stresses that this isn’t a “hands off” technology. It can’t respond to changing road conditions the way a human can. It just follows relatively simple environmental cues, like the car in front of it, to determine how fast it should be going, so you can’t really let your attention wander. In fact, GM’s working on ways to keep the driver engaged while Super Cruise is engaged. 

Pretty lackluster, all things considered. 

Still, it’s supposed to give you a bit of a break during the more tedious parts of a journey,  like bumper to bumper traffic, or long stretches of lonely highway, which is better than nothing.

The more interesting technology that GM is promising to integrate into their “smart car” is their V2V system. 

The V2V system is basically a device that will broadcast things like speed, position, and possible safety hazards to other vehicles equipped with the same technology. More importantly, it has a range of roughly 300 meters (for Americans that’s around 300 yards, or the length of 3 football fields). At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a particularly useful technology, but it’s supposed to be able to broadcast potential hazards like a crash or if a vehicle is sliding on black ice. 

The crux of the technology, however, is that it will only work with other cars that have V2V technology already integrated. Since only a small fraction of the Cadillac are expected to have this technology, it’s usefulness is extremely limited, at least until it gets a larger user base. Not only that, but we’ll have to see if it plays nice with similar technologies from other companies. It’s not too hard to imagine that GM’s systems won’t talk with Google smartcars, for example. 

To make the technology more useful, GM and Ford are partnering with the Michigan Department of Transportation to make “communications technology corridors” in and around Detroit, allowing the vehicles to synch and communicate not only with one another, but with the highway itself. 

All in all, it seems like GM’s proposal is a step in the right direction rather than a true smartcar. In fact, Google’s driverless vehicles, which have been in development for over 3 years, seems far more capable. From what’s been revealed, the Google prototype is  equipped with cutting edge technologies like LIDAR, and fully capable of driving itself just about anywhere. Knowing Google, though, they won’t release it until they think it’s absolutely perfect, which means we might very well see GM smartcars on the road before we see Google ones.

The real impediment to smartcars isn’t technology, though. It’s legislation and bureaucracy. Only four states in the US, namely Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan have actually legalized autonomous vehicles, which means that even if you’re one of the lucky ones who can afford a luxury smart Cadillac fresh off the assembly line in 2017, it still might not be street legal where you live.