Under the microscope: GM studying drivers behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles

Under the microscope GM studying drivers behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles

We have to admit we’ve been left feeling rather sideswiped when it comes to reader reactions to autonomous vehicle technology. While most (ourselves included) see it as another step in automotive evolution — not to mention the fulfillment of our most sought after iRobot fantasy that doesn’t include Will Smith (easy now ladies) — others cast a more suspicious and skeptical gaze.

Now we’ve had the chance to speak to General Motors in the past about autonomous vehicle technology, where it’s currently at and where it’s headed, and it would appear the Detroit-based automaker is continuing along its merry way in developing and studying the technology that will one day see us handing over our driving duties to an on-board computer.

“People have dreamed of having self-driving cars for decades, but having that capability will be a major adjustment for people when it is first introduced,” said John Capp, GM director of Global Active Safety Electronics and Innovation. “This study is helping GM and its research partners determine the best methods for keeping drivers engaged.”

Part of that development process includes studying driver’s behavior while behind the wheel of conventional vehicles, and those outfitted with self-steering, semi-autonomous technology. Remarkably, General Motors, along with its research partners, have found that driver attentiveness can be improved via advanced driver assistance and safety features. So whether your car will be driving itself now or in the future the key to making that a success, and more importantly safe, is keeping drivers aware of their surroundings. Sounds like a no-brainer to us.

“Drivers are already engaging in risky behavior, and are likely to continue doing so given the prevalence of smartphones and other portable electronics, so why not make it safer for them and the people around them,” said Dr. Eddy Llaneras, principal investigator at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute on the study. “Offering some form of vehicle automation with the proper safeguards might be better than what is happening on our roads today.”

While we still have some time before we can totally relinquish total control of our wheels, part of that future is already on its way. November will see the release of the 2013 Cadillac XTS and ATS sedans, which will provide the groundwork for fully autonomous systems by offering full-speed range adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.

Needless to say we’re more than ready to get behind the wheel and experience these  exciting new advances for ourselves. Like it or not, the autonomous vehicle is on its self-driving way.