General Motors has long been at the forefront of developing automated, intelligent and connected cars. The automaker recently announced it will be implementing its Super Cruise and vehicle-to-vehicle technology on certain future Cadillac models, but GM has been envisioning a world with connected cars and safer roads ever since the Firebird II Concept Vehicle (above) was introduced in 1956.
The Firebird II was a concept vehicle which a computer, described by GM at the time as an electronic brain, that connected to a theoretical Super Highway called the Safety Autoway. The driver of the car could then radio the highway control tower to enter “Automatic Mode” at which point the car would move into a lane with a metal conductor and follow it along. This was the earliest interest GM showed in autonomous driving.
Another piece of technology previewed by GM in the 50s were motion detectors. The 1959 Cadillac Cyclone concept sported two “twin domes” facing forward which housed proximity sensors that could detect vehicles and objects and warn the driver with a sound and flashing light. This is tech that’s commonplace today, but was ground-breaking in 1959.
GM’s next large safety breakthrough came in 1996 with the introduction of OnStar. It was the industry’s first embedded telematics system and originally only offered Airbag Deployment Notification, which would notify OnStar advisors when your airbags had deployed and would send emergency response units to your location. Interestingly, like V2V and Super Cruise, OnStar was first only available on select Cadillac models including the Deville and Eldorado.
Buick also had significant safety breakthroughs in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the LeSabre Automated Highway Research Project and Automotive Collision Avoidance System Project. The automated highway project used thousands of magnets embedded in a highway to demonstrate a LeSabre that would accelerate, brake and steer without driver input. Not long after, more LeSabres were outfitted with sensors that could detect objects in the vehicle’s vicinity, a huge step towards fully automated driving.
In 2005, GM showed off the concept versions of its V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies. V2V can communicate info such as speed and direction with other cars on the road to help prevent a crash, while V2I connects to the road network to learn traffic signal phases, road characteristics and surface conditions.
One of the biggest steps forward with automated driving and connected cars was the ‘Boss’ self driving Chevrolet Tahoe, which won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Urban Challenge in 2007. The Tahoe is a fully autonomous vehicle equipped with laser sensors and cameras, allowing it to navigate a 60-mile course without a driver while merging with traffic, stopping at stop signs, obeying speed limits and navigating busy intersections.
Today GM is developing or is in the process of implementing several projects which work towards the goal of having fully autonomous cars and safer roads. These include the electric two-seater Chevrolet EN-V 2.0, and the completion of Super Cruise for the impending full-size Cadillac flagship sedan and V2V for the CTS mid-size sedan. Similar technologies will also likely find their way into other GM models, just as OnStar, motion sensors and other safety technologies did.