General Motors' semi-autonomous Super Cruise system isn't slated to debut until 2017, but already, federal regulators have taken umbrage with the way it works.
The focal point of this quibble is the way in which Super Cruise reacts to drivers who refuse to take the wheel, The Wall Street Journal reports. Super Cruise will steer on behalf of the driver, but if the driver refuses to retake control after several on-screen warnings, the car will slowly come to a stop "in or near the roadway."
In the event that the driver has suffered a medical emergency, OnStar can call the car and request emergency assistance to its location. When the car brings itself to a stop, it also engages the hazard lights, which the feds had no problem with.
The problem is not the vehicle stopping -- that makes sense, if a driver is unwilling to retake control of the vehicle when required. The problem is that the car might stop in the road, which causes a big ol' safety issue for every other driver.
For what it's worth, GM isn't as concerned. "The situation identified in the letter from NHTSA is very rare," said GM spokesman Kevin M. Kelly via email. "The vehicle will only slow itself down if the system determines that the driver may be incapacitated, has not responded to various warnings, and that slowing the vehicle would be the safest thing to do."
Super Cruise is similar to Tesla's Autopilot in that it is capable of piloting the vehicle on certain stretches of roadway for short periods of time. It's not meant to remove the driver from the equation. It was originally set to debut on the this year, but it's since been delayed until 2017.
None of this is correlates to an inherent distrust in the computers running the show. Rather, it's a distrust of the human behind the wheel. There have already been several accidents potentially linked to misuse of Tesla's Autopilot system, and it's unlikely that drivers will stop assuming their vehicles are more capable than they actually are.
As the media continues to hype up "self-driving cars," it has the potential to lull owners into a sense of complacency that can actually decrease overall safety. Full-on autonomous cars are still years away. GM is smart to call it Super Cruise, because it retains the link to current cruise control systems, which still require a great deal of human attention.
Update, 11:32 a.m. Eastern: Added manufacturer comment.