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The car with the built-in chauffeur

General Motors engineers are developing a system close to being an automotive auto-pilot, which could be fitted on its production cars within three years.

Now undergoing testing in Germany under the supervision of senior experimental engineers is an Opel/Vauxhall Vectra with the radar guided capability to ‘see’, judge and steer. This takes the principles of automatic cruise control (ACC) and lane departure warning technology several stages forward.

Unlike the ACC applied to top-line Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus models, which maintains a constant distance from the car in front, the GM system can also operate below 20mph. It is able to bring the car to a standstill and automatically move off when the vehicle it is following resumes its journey.

To retain basic driver control, the system switches off after standing still for more than two seconds, and it can be cancelled at any point by braking or accelerating. Rapid resetting involves pushing a steering wheel button and braking or throttle intervention cancels the device.

Most EU members’ traffic laws make it illegal to have a self-steering car, but their governments have signed up to halving road deaths by 2010. GM predicts it can include the option in a new model range, due in 2008, for less than £1,000.

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