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Self-driving Cadillac: Coming to a road near you

Self-driving Cadillac: Coming to a road near you
Photo Courtesy of CNBC

Once reserved for science fiction and our imaginations, Cadillac plans to launch a vehicle in 2016 that will basically drive itself on the highway. Aside from making the roads safer for all travelers, Cadillac hopes the innovation will, " ... show that Cadillac is on the leading edge of technology and transportation capabilities," according to General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

And while we haven't quite reached wind tunnel transportation tubes, or at least, fully automated cars in which we can sit in the backseat reading the New York Times and sipping brandy like Dudley Moore's Arthur, Cadillac's Super Cruise technology will certainly take us another giant step toward arriving in such a future.

Just to be clear, "basically driving itself" means the vehicle operator can sit back in the driver's seat (for now, only while on the freeway), without having to control the steering wheel. Though the vehicle will come equipped with other "wow" features like parking assist and automatic braking.

So, then, which Cadillac model is most likely to be blessed the gift of Super Cruise at first? Apparently, it is going to a completely new model. Barra pointed out it will be available on a vehicle "in a segment where we do not compete today." (Possible on the Elmiraj concept that Cadillac first unveiled in 2013.)

Advances could move quickly with industry cooperation

The main obstacle keeping the 2017 version of this Cadillac from potentially showcasing jaw-dropping features is the timing of other manufacturers support when it comes to the widespread use of what is known as vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V). This technology allows cars to share information such as speed and location. Despite other car makers not yet in lockstep with Cadillac, GM still plans to equip the second model year with V2V - that way the vehicle will be V2V-enabled for the time when others fully comply.

As we speak, industry regulators are working out a plan to require automakers to include V2V on all new product models, which could potentially reduce non-drinking or mechanical issues by as much as 80 percent. A great stat, but useless for Cadillac if other vehicles do not have vehicle-to-vehicle communications on-board the vast majority of their autos.

Where is this headed?

Though nothing is certain, we can safely assume that completely autonomous vehicles are years away. But how many years is that? Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, just last year, projected that such marvels would be available in the showroom as soon as 2020.

Whether it is five, 10 or 15 years, the commercialization of self-driving vehicles is more than in motion. And really, beyond the necessary technology, the chief obstacle could be best described consumer trust or belief. How safe are we going to feel in a vehicle with no driver? Could we be victims of hacker terrorists taking control of our vehicles?

Perhaps a slow integration of these features is the best way to win over consumer prejudices. And maybe that is exactly why Cadillac's Super Cruise feature debuting in 2016 is ever so important.

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