A vehicle capable of driving itself may sound like something out of a science fiction story, but General Motors (GM) expects to equip its vehicles with such technology by the middle of this decade.
In fact, GM has already developed a number of the basic systems required for self-driving vehicles. Recently, the auto manufacturer and its research partners conducted a study to determine how "non-driving" activities influence driver behavior in self-steering, semi-autonomous vehicles.
The study concluded that driver attentiveness can be improved using advanced driver assistance and safety features.
"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."
Indeed, distracted driving has become an epidemic around the country with many sending texts and e-mails while behind wheel. Sadly, distracted driving has led to many fatalities on the streets around the country and untold amounts of lost income and repair costs.
And that is why the GM study specifically analyzed the demands on the driver's visual attention during hands-on steering and automated steering - both with full speed range adaptive cruise control engaged. For the uninitiated, full speed range adaptive cruise control can best be described as a safety feature which assumes full control of the throttle. This makes it possible for a car to automatically maintain a precise distance from a vehicle in traffic, while controlling the throttle and braking so the driver is less likely to hit the car in front of them.
The study concluded that while engaging in non-driving activities, drivers tend to split visual attention between the road and secondary tasks, such as texting, by making relatively frequent brief glances away from the pavement. The study also determined that advanced driver assistance features, such as Foward Collision Alert, increased driver focus on the road by approximately 126% when automated steering was in operation.
"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 GM rep John Capp.
"This study is helping GM and its research partners determine the best methods for keeping drivers engaged.”
Capp was also quick to emphasize that GM was studying how drivers interact with the new safety features in the hopes of finding ways to help drivers stay focused on driving, even when they are not actively involved in steering and throttle inputs.
“At GM, we recognize that autonomous vehicles will require robust safeguards... By studying driver behavior in automated driving scenarios we are better able to identify the types of driver assistance and safety features that automated cars will need," he added.