It appears that Cadillac will offer its hands-off adaptive cruise control on one or more vehicles for the 2014 model year--at least if one high-ranking executive is to be believed.

Appearing at the Driverless Car Summit in Detroit yesterday, Gary Smyth, executive director of GM's North  American Science laboratories--the company's R&D arm--said the "Super Cruise" function shown earlier this year would be something "we will be introducing in the near term."

When a car company executive says that (a few times, in this case), it's code. It means, "not this year, but maybe next year"--which, translated, means not for the 2013 model year but possibly for 2014.

The Super Cruise system controls not only the accelerator and brake, but also the steering, allowing the driver to remove his or her hands from the steering wheel.

It operates by adding so-called lane centering to today's adaptive cruise control, which keeps a vehicle at a safe following distance from the cars ahead of it.

Lane centering uses technology already used for Lane Departure Correction systems offered today on several luxury brands. Those systems automatically steer a car back into its lane if it drifts over a lane divider.

The lane-centering function operates the steering continuously, rather than intermittently, to center the car between the two lane markers. It can also include algorithms to offset the car slightly if, for example, there's a high concrete wall on one side--a situation in which a human driver would stay further away from that side.

2013 Cadillac XTS

2013 Cadillac XTS

The system is an example of what GM calls "sensor fusion," in which data from a variety of camera, radar, and ultrasonic systems are integrated to give the vehicle an increasingly complete picture of what is happened around it.

That will consequently improve the car's ability to respond more quickly than a human driver could, as well as to inform its driver of potentially important upcoming situations.

The Super Cruise system would be the first "hands-off" driving function ever offered in the U.S.

It represents the next step toward electronically-augmented driving, often characterized as follows:

  • Feet Off: Adaptive cruise control, which continuously controls the accelerator and brake
  • Hands Off: Adds lane centering to adaptive cruise, meaning the vehicle continuously keeps itself within its lane
  • Eyes Off: Vehicle automatically drives itself from point to point, avoiding obstacles and reacting suddenly to all safety hazards
  • People Out: Vehicle can drive itself to a given point without occupants

Speakers at the Driverless Car Summit cautioned that while "Hands Off" driving will arrive within a few years, moving to "Eyes Off" operation--where the driver may relinquish the responsibility for safe driving to the vehicle--remains a considerable distance away.

There will also be regulatory hurdles that will have to be negotiated, country by country.

A system like Super Cruise cannot be certified for sale today in Germany, according to Luca Delgrossi, director of driver assistance programs at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America.

In the U.S., however, an enhanced adaptive cruise-control system that removes the need for steering seems likely to be welcomed by long-distance drivers who regularly rack up Interstate trips of up to 12 hours a day.

Could Cadillac perhaps beat Mercedes-Benz to the punch in offering an automotive safety system? That would be news indeed.