Cadillac pushes pedal on self-driving car

Cadillac is working on Super Cruise technology that will handle braking and steering for highway driving, an approach which could serve as a foothold for broader use of self-driving cars.

Cadillac is testing its Super Cruise technology which uses sensors and cameras to automatically steer and brake the car on highways.
Screen shot by Martin LaMonica/CNET

A self-driving car doesn't necessarily mean handing the keys over to a robot.

General Motors' on Friday said it is testing semi-autonomous technology on its Cadillac cars called Super Cruise that takes over freeway driving. It could be available by mid decade, the company said.

It's a sign how the technology for autonomous vehicles is advancing rapidly and how what's called a "self-driving car" can take different forms.

GM said that two of its 2013 Cadillac luxury sedans, the XTS and the ATS, have a Driver Assist package that already incorporates a number of sensors to detect nearby objects. The sensors will automatically brake when a driver is backing up to avoid a collision and it will alert a driver of a potential forward collision.

Now Cadillac is testing lane centering technology, which uses cameras to detect lane markings on a highway. This allows the car to steer by itself by maintaining its driving lane position.

By combining lane centering with object-detection and automatic braking, Cadillac cars can operate autonomously for long periods on the highway, even in stop and go traffic, according to GM. The lane centering would not work if lane markings are not sufficiently visible.

The intention is not to take away driver control and the company wants drivers to remain engaged while driving, said Don Butler, the vice president of Cadillac marketing.

Other automakers, including Mercedes, are using similar technology--cameras, sensors, and radar--to add safety related features on high-end vehicles. At the same time, Google has been testing completely self-driving cars for more than two years, although it hasn't indicated how or whether it will bring products to market.

Self-driving cars bring up a host of safety and liability questions. But Cadillac's approach of hands-free highway driving, which is an outgrowth of cruise control, could be a foothold for broad use of self-driving car technology starting with luxury vehicles.

General Motors