How the Cadillac Safety Alert Seat Works

Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture
Cadillac's latest safety technologies include graphics on the gauge cluster that indicate when an object has been detected in the path of the vehicle.
Cadillac's latest safety technologies include graphics on the gauge cluster that indicate when an object has been detected in the path of the vehicle.

Besides the rumble strip simulation for lane departure, the Safety Alert Seat works with the front and rear park assist sensors, the rear cross-traffic alert and a new backing warning feature for when you're backing up at higher speeds. The car will not only shake your rump to tell you to watch out behind you, it'll apply the brakes for you if you're not quick enough on the pedal.

You may have seen the commercial for the cross-traffic alert, where someone is backing out of a parking space with huge SUVs on either side. The driver can't see a thing, but the Cadillac has radar looking up and down the aisle. If it picks up another vehicle on the right, the right side of the seat vibrates. It also puts the information in the center console, just in case your butt isn't smart enough to pick up on the haptic warning. (Haptic! It's the word of the day!)

What would possess a man to design a system to shake the rumps of Cadillac owners while they drive? Keifer said he was inspired by the tactile warnings used by the visual and hearing impaired. "Some of our drivers are hearing impaired, or beeps can't be heard because of background noise," he said. "In the course of my research, I became aware that some companies were using vibration for navigation purposes to signal left vs. right. The idea came to me to use it for alerting the driver to potential crashes."

Having a nearly silent alert serves another purpose, too: Most people turn off safety systems when they get annoying. If you've ever driven a car with a park assist system, you know that the beeping inside the car can get a bit shrill. You may find yourself screaming, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" at the poor car, which is really just trying to help you. A quick, quiet vibration is less likely to bug you, according to Keifer.

"It also provides privacy benefits," said Keifer. "Do the passengers in the car really need to know every time you drift out of the lane?" No, they do not. Nor do they need to comment on one's challenges with parallel parking. "Things like lane departure and park assist beeps happen daily," Keifer added. "Annoyance is a big deal. We want to keep people from turning the safety systems off."

Author's Note: How the Cadillac Safety Alert Seat Works

At first, when I read about this seat, I thought it was gimmicky and silly, to be honest. Is a vibrating seat going to keep you from crashing? Or will it make you crash because you're all, "Why is my butt tingling?"

But I realized the value of haptic feedback when Ray Keifer mentioned that people find blinking and beeping alerts so annoying that they turn the whole dang system off. As an automotive journalist, I've driven dozens of brand-new cars with every literal bell and whistle turned on and going full blast. It's annoying like you would not believe.

I have a rosemary bush next to my driveway. It grows faster than the dandelions in the lawn. Every test car I drive these days has sensors for backing up, and every time I get near that rosemary bush, the sensors go into high alert. "Beep! Beep! Beep! Holy crap! There is something very near my fender! We're all going to die! Die, I tell you! Beeeeep!" Every time I leave the driveway.

If I owned any of those cars, I would also turn off the safety systems. Now, do I really want a daily vibration of my left butt cheek as I leave my driveway? Maybe ...

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  • GM News. "Cadillac Safety Seat Alerts Drivers to Dangers." Press release. March 27, 2012. (Oct. 2, 2012)
  • Keifer, Ray. General Motors Active Safety Technical Fellow. Telephone interview conducted on Oct. 9, 2012.