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GM: The car can drive itself - but don't fall asleep

General Motors

The fully self-driving or autonomous car is probably decades away.  But partly self-driving cars will be here by the end of the decade, according to General Motors.

GM invited reporters to its Milford Proving Grounds this week to drive Cadillacs equipped with prototypes of the technology - which includes radar, cameras, GPS and maps that help the car drive itself.

Credit General Motors
GM's "supercruise" technology uses radar, cameras, GPS and maps to keep the car in its lane and prevent crashes

All that's required is for the driver to guide the car into a lane, set the speed control, and hit the self-drive button, and the car takes over.  It stays in the lane, more accurately than a lot of drivers can do, and brakes if another car swerves suddenly in front.

Jeremy Salinger is GM's Innovation Program Manager.   He says even people who love to do their own driving will likely welcome the new technology.

"I don't think anybody really enjoys driving in stop and go traffic," says Salinger, "or if you're on this long cross country drive and you want to be able to relax a little bit more than you would otherwise.  It works fairly well as long as the lines are visible, but if for example they're covered with snow, you're gonna have to steer yourself."

Salinger says drivers will still have to watch the road, because they may need to re-take control of the car at any time.   Humans being humans, the potential for a driver to become completely distracted or even fall asleep is high.

That's why GM is developing methods for making sure the driver is alert and paying attention.  The methods are "our secret sauce," said Salinger, declining to get more specific . 

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.