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With all due respect to Hollywood, actual robot revolutions occur by degrees. For proof of this, we need look no further than the 2013 Cadillac XTS, which uses something called “sensor fusion” to introduce elements of autonomy to the car.

In other words, before we get to cars that drive themselves, we’ll first have cars like the XTS, which sort of drive themselves. The XTS’s system uses ultrasonic sensors, radar, cameras, and positioning technologies to help drivers avoid crashes. The XTS will also offer full-speed range adaptive cruise control, smart brake assist, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning, automatic collision preparation, and adaptive forward lighting, according to a press release.

Bakhtiar Litkouhi, GM Research and Development lab group manager for perception and vehicle control systems, put it this way in a statement reported in Torque News: “We believe sensor fusion will enable future active safety systems to handle a greater number of inputs to provide 360 degrees of crash risk detection and enhanced driver assist features. A system that combines the strengths of multiple sensing technologies and expertly manages those inputs can provide advisory, warning, and control interventions to help drivers avoid collisions and save lives.”

“Sensor fusion” appears to just be GM’s fancy way of saying that the system uses inputs from various types of sensing technology. “No sensor working alone provides all the needed information. That’s why multiple sensors and positioning technologies need to work together synergistically and seamlessly,” said Litkouhi. Autoblogvideo recently posted an interview with Litkouhi on YouTube, in which he went into more detail.

In addition to this “active” safety system, as GM terms it, the 2013 Cadillac XTS will feature a revamped telematics system called Cue (for “Cadillac User Experience”). The New York Times recently went hands on with Cue, and found it extremely intuitive for anyone familiar with a smartphone. (“We were determined to eliminate the steep learning curve, so we based the design on familiar devices and made ease of use a priority,” GM’s Mike Hichme explained.) The system can also be run with voice commands, using Nuance software.

GM’s decision not to reinvent the wheel (so to speak) with its infotainment system was a wise one. As smartphones and tablet interfaces become the ones we are most familiar with, it makes sense for manufacturers of other systems to follow suit. Consumers shouldn’t have to climb steep learning curves with every new device we encounter–more often than not, that simply leads to us giving up on the systems before we ever began to use them. 

Sometimes the most forward-thinking design decisions are the ones that actually look backward–at the interfaces that already work.

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