We use to have a neighbor that parked a vintage Ford Mustang up the street. It had the vanity plate, “I WAS 5”. That model began production at and about ’65. The above picture is from the Easter car show. I was five when this Caddy was built. Last Easter was a crystal-brilliant Sunday afternoon. That weather, shiny metal and chrome has made for some excellent photos, if I do say so myself.
Cadillac recently announced it was working on a system it calls super cruise that would be capable of steering, braking and lane-centering while highway driving without human intervention. It is hoped that such an autonomous driving systems could be available by mid-decade. Super cruise would rely on existing sensor technologies that let today’s cars know what is going on around them, such as cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and GPS navigation. It would be the next great leap forward from today’s adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning-equipped cars.
In addition to GM, about a half-a-dozen other car makers are also investing in this technology. Google has been attracting a lot of press for its work on autonomous self-driving cars. But I haven’t noticed any Google Motors dealers near me yet. I don’t see Google bringing this technology to market, unless it purchases a car company. This is how it got in to the phone business. It bought the phone manufacturer, Motorola. More than likely though, it will be a car company the sells this technology to me first. Toyota offers the adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning on the Prius, but it was not available when I bought my car last year.
So, some day in the not too distant future, you slide in, behind the wheel of your first autonomous driving system equipped vehicle. How is this going to work? If it is the GM super cruise system, then you’ll have to wait until you are on the highway first. Assume that it is like normal cruise control, you turn it on and it holds your speed. It would also hold your lane. This would free your hands so that you could enter your destination into the GPS navigation system. Fast forwarding to the next generation of this system, the car would drive itself until you reached your exit.
If everything worked correctly then you would be free to text, apply makeup, shave, read or do any of the number of things that drivers already do while behind the wheel, but shouldn’t. You would eventually be given proper notice upon approaching your chosen exit, the system would disengage and driving would revert to normal. This is the envisioned scenario. What would happen if things don’t go according to plan?
Say, another car swerves into your path, a deer jumps across the road or any number of unexpected events, what would happen? Would you even notice any sort of alert, over whatever absorptive activity that you might be engaged in? How would a last second alarm make you feel about a system that has driven you into a life threatening situation? This last question touches upon the more than simply engineering that comprise the kinds of issues that this system would wrestle with.
Back in 1959, the closest one could come to super cruise was the Brodie knob, also called a steering wheel spinner. This aftermarket knob would attach to the outer ring of the steering wheel and facilitated one-handed steering. This freed the other arm for hanging it out the window, smoking or holding your baby closer. All of which could be more chancy than any GM super cruise scheme.