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Look, ma, no hands! Cadillac's self-driving car

Cadillac

Cadillac's Super Cruise technology relies upon cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors.

Google has attracted plenty of attention for its work on autonomous self-driving cars. But have you noticed any “Google Motors” dealers near you to sell such cars? I didn’t think so.

If you’re going to buy a car that drives itself in the foreseeable future, it will likely come from a company that already sells cars, unless Google buys its way into car-building the way it bought Motorola to get into the phone hardware business.

Cadillac aims to be the automaker leading the charge into autonomous driving with a planned feature it calls Super Cruise.  Full autonomy is the ultimate goal of such projects, but in the near term – say mid-decade – Cadillac and probably others will sell cars that can cruise on the highway without your help.

Yep, that means the car handles the steering, gas and brakes, with no input from the driver. Super Cruise relies on the ever-increasing raft of sensor technologies that let the car know what is going on around it, such as cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors, while GPS navigation ensures the car knows precisely where it is.

Many of the building blocks needed for Super Cruise are already on today’s production models, such as the new Cadillac ATS compact sedan and XTS large sedan.

“We see the semi-autonomous vehicle, or self-driving vehicle as the next stage in that evolution” toward full autonomy,” said Don Butler, vice president of Cadillac marketing.

The key to making the leap from today’s adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning-equipped cars to one that can also steer itself is the development of lane-centering technology.  This relies on forward-looking cameras to see lane markings, while GPS map data tells the car when to expect curves in the road.

Watch the Cadillac navigate a test track with the driver’s hands off the wheel here: http://bcove.me/uqcwagjo

So when the camera can see the lines on the road, the car will be able to drive itself.  When it can’t, because of fog or other problems, you’ll have to grip the power-assisted steering wheel yourself to point the car.

With high-tech features like this that openly challenge tech darlings like Google, maybe Cadillac dealers will be like Apple stores, with customers lined up outside circa 2016 to be the first to buy cars with limited self-driving capability.