Self-driving cars, for better or for worse, are most likely inevitable.  We wouldn’t expect them to appear in the next few years, or even the next decade, but much beyond that some degree of autonomous driving is all but guaranteed.

Between now and then is the gray area, where the building blocks for self-driving cars are put in place. Mercedes-Benz has already equipped its latest S-Class with many of the tools necessary to create a driverless environment, even if the car (and local laws) still requires driver input under most conditions.

Not to be left behind, Audi’s latest A8 will incorporate a “traffic jam assistant” for semi-autonomous driving in bumper to bumper traffic. Industry supplier Continental is also working on the necessary technologies, and even Cadillac has announced what it’s calling “Sensor Fusion” in the upcoming 2013 XTS sedan.

Now Cadillac is taking that one step further, developing what it calls “Super Cruise” technology. By mid-decade, Cadillac believes it will have a system that can provide fully automatic steering, braking and lane centering, as long as certain environmental conditions are met.

The idea behind Super Cruise is simple: on long highway drives, or in bumper to bumper traffic, the system will ease some of the burden currently placed on the driver, presumably reducing fatigue.

When deployed, the system will rely on adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe following distance to the car in front, plus lane-centering technology that relies on cameras to detect lane markings. This data is also compared to GPS data, which (in theory, anyway) knows about things like curves and pavement changes.

The system won’t be foolproof, since it relies on pavement markings for accuracy. Road construction, heavy rain, snow or other environmental conditions can impact accuracy (and thus, safety), so expect any system to come with a healthy number of disclaimers and warnings.

Still, there’s no doubt that such systems have the potential to reduce accidents, which will be essential to public acceptance of autonomous vehicles. Even the most hardcore drivers among us will recognize that self-driving cars have a place in the automotive world.

Assuming, that is, someone is still building cars that require the driver to accelerate, brake, shift and steer on his own.