Posted Apr 30th 2012 5:00PM
Formerly the stuff of video games like Forza 4, a new rumble technology in the Cadillac XTS delivers seat vibrations to alert drivers to crash threats.
Vibrating video game devices providing tactile feedback have been around for eons. Today, the miniature motor technology is most commonly found in handheld game controllers. There, it's used to deliver a contextually-relevant tremble or "rumble" sensation intimating the direction of an explosion, the force of a punch, the speed stresses on spaceship, washboard on a rally car course or dozens of other virtualized rough and tumble circumstances.
Tactile feedback is also found in a variety of third-party specialty peripherals, from headphones that will literally knock you in the back of the head to full-size "racing seats" that will quiver your buttocks as the game terrain suggests.
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For serious enthusiasts, there's even the aptly-named "Butt Kicker" add-on hardware that will turn any seat into a glute-thumping chair (check it out at thebuttkicker.com).
Cadillac is bringing this time-honoured tactile tech to the automotive realm, iterating and innovating beyond an entertaining sensation; going so far as to secure a patent on its new "Cadillac Safety Alert Seat."
Starting with the new Cadillac XTS and then the Cadillac ATS luxury sedan and SRX luxury crossover later this year, Caddy driver's seats will include a pair of motorized vibrators in each side bolster. Integrating with an array of sensory devices built around the car - forward-looking camera, front and rear ultrasonic sensors and radar all the way around, including the sides - the safety seat will deliver "directional tactile sensation" as distinct patterns of pulsation to communicate perceived hazards.
Lane departure warnings, side blind-spot alerts, proximity warnings as front and rear parking assistance, and forward-collision alerts have become a common feature in upscale cars - and they're slowly becoming standard safety features across the board (much like airbags and ABS, formerly known as lifesavers reserved for the rich). But where such safety systems usually deliver an audible chime and a blinking light somewhere on the dash or side-view mirrors, a Cadillac will also tickle your tush, going so far as to convey the direction from which the perceived hazard is approaching.
For example, vibrating pulse patterns on the left or right side of the lower bolster alert the driver to potential perils like drifting from a traffic lane, or into objects while parking. Threats from the front and rear trigger pulses on both sides of the seat.
More specifically, when backing out of a driveway or parking space, the seat provides a few quick pulses to both sides of the seat if and when an object is first detected directly behind the car, escalating to repeated pulses as the hazard gets closer. Or, if another vehicle is approaching from the side, the pulse will come from whichever side the threat happens to be. Pretty cool.
Seeing as it would serve little purpose to deliver cautionary throbs every time you wanted to change lanes, the Caddy will also "intelligently" decide when to activate warnings. If a turn signal is on, lane departure warnings are not presented - which is too bad for those of us suffering from sciatica, because hanging out on the dotted line would mean free Shiatsu, wouldn't it?
Then again, if you can afford a Cadillac, you can probably afford a real masseuse as well. Carry on.
Anyway, with this multifarious gluteus input at the ready, blinking lights and sirens are relegated to optional warnings that can be turned off. At this point, the massaging safety warnings can be optionally shut off as well.
GM claims its research revealed that an enlivened seat might direct driver attention to the location of a crash threat more quickly and accurately than beeping alerts
It's akin to someone tapping on your shoulder in a crowd to get your attention," explained Raymond Kiefer, Active Safety Technical Fellow at GM (yes, that's his title). In this case, tap-on-the-shoulder is a euphemism for kick-in-the-pants.
Using the tactile sense to communicate crash threat direction provides an effective and intuitive way to cut through the clutter of visual and auditory sensory information that drivers routinely experience," added Kiefer.
While it's doubtful the Cadillac Safety Alert Seat will be sold separately, the system is certainly ripe for a bundling with the next Forza Motorsport game on Xbox. For now, gamers will have to make do with the Butt Kicker.