General Motors CEO Mary Barra announced this week that the automaker will launch the Super Cruise advanced driver assistance system and vehicle-to-vehicle communications within the next two years. Both technologies will find their way into 2017 model year vehicles, automating key aspects of driving for Cadillac owners.

Barra made the announcements on Sunday during her keynote address at the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) World Congress in Detroit.

"GM will put the first V2V-enabled car on the road in about two years, " Barra said. "What's more, I'm announcing that we will bring in advanced, highly automated driving technology to the market in this same timeframe."

The highly automated technology is the Super Cruise system that Cadillac began demonstrating and refining back in 2012. It plans to launch the system on an "all-new" 2017 Cadillac model.

Super Cruise falls short of the fully autonomous commuting imagined on concepts like the Zoox Boz and Rinspeed XchangE, but it's a class above today's automated cruise control systems.

"With Super Cruise, when there's a congestion alert, you can let the car take over and drive hands-free and feet-free through the worst stop and go traffic," Barra explained. "And if the mood strikes you on wide open roads, you can take a break from wheels and pedals and let the car do the work."

The hands-free bit is what advances Super Cruise past today's automated driving suites. Mercedes-Benz's Distronic Plus with Steering Assist is about as close as you can currently get to autonomous driving from the factory. While Mercedes marketing materials gush about that system's following, braking and steering capabilities, the small print way down below includes a disclaimer that the driver still has to remain attentive and continue operating controls such as steering and braking.

Super Cruise will allow the driver to hand physical control over to the car "in certain highway driving conditions," assuming GM's legal team doesn't slide in a Mercedes-like footnote before its market release. Super Cruise will then handle lane centering, braking and speed maintenance. GM is careful to point out that the feature is designed for attentive drivers. You won't be able to kick your feet up on the dashboard and take a nap just yet.

Barra stopped short of revealing the Super Cruise launch model, but she did say that it will slot into a segment that Cadillac isn't competing in today. That admission lines up quite nicely with rumors that Cadillac is developing a flagship to go head to head with the likes of the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series. That Cadillac model is expected to (fingers crossed) bear some resemblance to the stylish Elmiraj concept, which debuted in Pebble Beach last year. If such a model is in the works, it would seem like a logical launch vehicle for a new automated technology suite.

GM did provide a specific model for the launch of vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology, though, stating those capabilities will be included in the 2017 CTS. V2V communications will be a large part of future autonomous driving systems, allowing cars to communicate with each other toward increasing safety and traffic efficiency.

"V2V communication technology could mitigate many traffic collisions and improve traffic congestion by sending and receiving basic safety information such as location, speed and direction of travel between vehicles that are approaching each other," GM explains. "It will warn drivers and can supplement active safety features, such as forward collision warning, already available on many production cars."

GM spruced its narrative up by providing a visual timeline of its intelligent tech, starting with the 1956 Firebird II, its first imagining of an autonomous car. The gas turbine-powered concept car featured theoretical push-button autonomous driving capabilities designed for the "electronic safety highway." GM imagined the car being navigated down such highways by way of electronic signals.

You can see more of the Firebird II, along with other concepts and research vehicles that helped GM pave the way toward modern automation tech, in the accompanying photo gallery. The short Firebird II promo clip below is an interesting "future tech of the past" piece that's worth a look.

What do you think; were concept cars cooler back in the 50s?

View gallery - 29 images