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Tesla, Volvo, Cadillac: Which semi-automated driving system is best?

Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

Nearly 60 years ago, Chrysler introduced the first semi-automated driving feature in the 1958 Imperial. That cutting-edge land shark featured a convenience known as cruise control.

The dream of the self-driving car has shifted into reality and it won't take another 60 years to have a car that can drive itself; Ford, Volvo, GM and other automakers -- and nonautomakers such as Apple, Uber and Google's Waymo -- are planning in the next five years for at least Level 4 automation in which the human driver does not have to intervene.

The old Imperial was considered Level 1. Level 5 is fully automated driving under all roadways and conditions.

But what are these systems and how do they work? Now nearly every automaker offers the basis for semi-automated driving with cameras and sensors to enable adaptive cruise control, self-parking, automatic emergency braking and some variation of lane keeping, which are classified by the Society of Automotive Engineers and governmental bodies as Level 2. The number of light-duty vehicles sold globally with Level 2 technology is expected to grow to 93 million by 2026 from 250,000 in 2017, according to Navigant Research.

Tesla Autopilot, Cadillac Super Cruise, Audi Traffic Jam Pilot, BMW Traffic Jam Assistant, Volvo Pilot Assist and Mercedes Distronic Plus are the most advanced Level 2 systems pushing into Level 3 and possibly 4.

The technology is there. It is the human side of things that is applying the brakes.

There are no solid safety rules for governing or launching semi-automated driving technology, and the lack of naming convention shared by automakers mucks up consumers' understanding. There should be a demonstration by a certified tech of all technology before handing over the keys at the dealership, regardless of how simple it seems. Furthermore, systems that rely solely on cameras reading lane markings and radar reading nearby traffic are best suited for stop-and-go traffic on limited-access divided highways (with on- and off-ramps), not higher-speed cruising.

The temptation when the car takes over the wheel is for the driver to check his phone (which is what most drivers appear to be doing already), but Level 2 systems are not considered advanced enough for drivers to take eyes off the road for any significant time. There still needs to be a driver. So why bother?

For now, convenience. Soon enough, the technology will improve vehicle safety, traffic flow, accessibility to drivers with limited access, even increased fuel economy.

Three of the more advanced systems are the Cadillac Super Cruise, Volvo Pilot Assist and Tesla Autopilot.


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