General Motors: The Future of Driver Assistance Technology Is Already Here

Oct 23, 2014 07:03 PM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

It's 10 a.m. on a blustery October morning, and we're shivering in a parking lot the size of a football field at the storied General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich., about 40 miles from Detroit. In the distance, camouflaged future cars whiz by on a six-lane highway, while a prototype with a supercharged engine echoes in the thickly settled woods. A full-size sedan maneuvers itself tidily into a space, flush between two parked cars, while an SUV performs an emergency braking maneuver without driver input.

Welcome to the grown-up sandbox for the car-obsessed.

We've traveled to Milford, home of The Next Big Things to experience the latest in GM's advances in crash avoidance technology and driver assistance. The plot of land that we're standing on is part of an unfinished addition to the proving grounds that will eventually showcase these technologies, which range from beeps and flashes to autonomously applied steering and braking control. When it's finished, according to engineering group manager Doug Donaldson, it will comprise a dynamics pad capable of showing off advancements in pedestrian and curb detection; highways surfaces and lane markings designed to mimics those from around the world; and different types of on- and off-ramps for demonstration purposes. Donaldson, and his team of validation engineers, are hopeful that the "years of work" that have gone into the facility will complement existing tech development.

What follows is a survey of what we experienced at the proving grounds in production vehicles that already feature these technologies, and a look at some forthcoming advancements.

(Editor's note: Although our cameras were not allowed at the heavily guarded facility, a photographer was on-site to provide us with the images for this story.)

Leave the driving to us...
The crown jewel of GM's future technology plans seems to be Super Cruise, a suite of driver assistance features that will maintain vehicle speed and keep the driver comfortably centered in the lane of travel. Think of it as a one-touch approach that encompasses lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control-which allows drivers to set a cruise speed, and then moderates the set speed using radar and sensors based on road conditions, such as traffic.
Super Cruise was a driving force behind the construction of the stretch of highway road course, which looks as if it was plucked from southern California's 405 freeway. The premise mimics existing systems like Infiniti's Safety Shield and Mercedes-Benz's Intelligent Drive, which offer nearly autonomous driving. Super Cruise is set to debut in a Cadillac for the 2017 model year. Product specialists on hand were mum about which vehicle will debut the system, but we imagine that widespread adoption across the model lineup won't lag much.
We didn't have the chance to experience a demonstration of Super Cruise, but the possibility of truly hands-free driving is exciting.
...And the parking, too
Some of the technology of tomorrow has already made its way into production vehicles. Automatic parking, for example, uses sensors to identify open parallel or perpendicular parking spaces at speeds up to 18 mph. Once the system senses a space that will accommodate the size of the vehicle, it takes over steering functionality and some throttle and braking input to safely guide uneasy parkers into the space. Although not fully autonomous-the driver remains ultimately responsible for safe modulation of the throttle, because lawyers-automatic parking is a boon for drivers in environments from urban centers to mall parking lots.
In our test, a Chevrolet SS backed itself perfectly in between another SS and an Impala sedan. While nerve-wracking for the driver, the experience is a spectacle for passengers, who can watch the steering wheel spin with abandon until the job is complete. Even more interestingly, our test driver accomplished the task in an SS equipped with a manual transmission (see accompanying story).
Give me a brake

As much as these systems are designed to help drivers avoid crashes, that's also the extent of their capability. Engineers admit that the use of technology like forward collision mitigation and automatic braking-in which the vehicle is equipped with sensors to automatically apply the brakes before a crash, in the driver's absence-cannot prevent all crashes. In real-life situations where we test vehicles, it's nearly impossible to test automatic braking without breaking into a sweat. GM adapts automatic braking for forward collision warning and rear obstacle detection.

That's how we found ourselves in a Chevrolet Tahoe full-size SUV hurtling toward an obstacle at about 15 mph. Approaching the foam obstacle, our test driver continued to accelerate as the car sensed that a collision was imminent. Sensors detected the stationary object ahead, and within inches of a potential crash, applied full braking pressure. We repeated the test three times-just to be safe-with the same results each time. Had we been traveling at 50 mph, our test driver said, the system would have lessened the impact of the crash, but not completely prevented it. Thank you, laws of physics.

Benefiting new drivers

Our visit to GM's testing facility coincided with National Teen Driver Safety Week, during which the automaker is attempting to promote these driver assistance features as supplementary support for new drivers. Ironically, according to Kirk Ferris of Michigan's Secretary of State, these driver assistance technologies may be interfering with traditional driver education and testing. Ferris said that current testing methods require those being tested to disable driver assistance technology in order to demonstrate mastery of basic skills.

However the future does play out, it's clear that this technology is fast on its way from the development labs to showrooms.

See Now: OnePlus 6: How Different Will It Be From OnePlus 5?

© 2021 Auto World News, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Get the Most Popular Autoworld Stories in a Weekly Newsletter

Join the Conversation

Real Time Analytics