Super Cruise: Will Cadillac’s self-driving car be better than Tesla?

Cadillac announced on Monday delivery plans for its Super Cruise autonomous driving technology. The company said Super Cruise will be the safest self-driving technology on the highway because of extensive features that make sure the driver doesn’t forget about driving the car.

That is Cadillac’s barely veiled poke at Tesla Autopilot, which has given the driver considerable leeway in keeping his or her hands on, or off, the wheel. Cadillac calls Super Cruise “the industry’s first true hands-free driving technology for the highway.”


Super Cruise is due first on the Cadillac CT6

Cadillac said Super Cruise will debut on the 2018 Cadillac CT6, its flagship full-size, rear- or all-wheel-drive passenger sedan that sells from the mid-fifties to the high-eighties. “Unlike other driver assistance systems,” Cadillac says, “Super Cruise utilizes two advanced technology systems — a driver attention system and precision lidar map data — to ensure safe and confident vehicle operation.”

Super Cruise “will insist on driver supervision,” said Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Cadillac Super Cruise.  It works this way:

  • If Super Cruise detects the driver has been inattentive for too long, it prompts the driver to return his or her attention to the road;
  • If the driver doesn’t immediately refocus, Super Cruise will continue to steer (and brake) while escalating the alerts;
  • Driver still inattentive? A light bar built into the top of the steering warns the driver to take control. Additional alerts include visual alerts in the instrument cluster, tactile alerts in Cadillac’s vibrating Safety Alert Seat, and more audible alerts;
  • If the driver is still inattentive – stoned? heart attack? fast asleep? other medical emergency? – Super Cruise “utilizes the full capability of on-board driver assistance technologies to bring the car to a controlled stop and contact OnStar to alert first responders, if necessary.”

Cadillac did not say how long it allows driver hands to be off the wheel. Most cars warn if the driver is hands off for 10-15 seconds. Tesla Autopilot has allowed the driver to be hands-off for minutes at a time.

Cadillac CT6 gets Super Cruise first, this fall, on 2018 cars.

Works best on limited access highways

Like other Level 2 autonomous cars — meaning they use several technologies to give the car limited self-driving capabilities — Cadillac employs GPS, radar sensors, and cameras. Specifically, it employs lane centering assist (which keeps the car centered in the lane) and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

Super Cruise development also includes a lidar-scanned map database, meaning a fleet of cars maps roadways for precise positioning information. It’s done on divided, limited-access highways, those with defined on- and off-ramps, and no hazards from vehicles pulling onto the highway from side roads or driveways. Therefore, Cadillac says, Super Cruise is restrained to these roads.

The map database includes limited access highways for Canada as well as the US.

Source: Cadillac

From Super Cruise to full autonomy

Self-driving has five levels of self-driving. Level 0 is no automation and Level 1 is driver assistance from ACC or lane departure warning that requires the driver to always be in control.

Level 2, partial automation, uses one or more systems to steer and accelerate/brake. Super Cruise lives at the top end of Level 2. Level 3, conditional automation, covers “all aspects of the dynamic driving task,” but the driver must be ready to take over at any time.

Level 4, high automation, and Level 5, full automation, are where the auto industry hopes to be after 2020. Level 4 cars can figure out a solution to a driving problem even if it wants the driver to take over; the solution could be coming to a stop. Level 5 is full, unconditional, self-driving, and these cars wouldn’t need a steering wheel.

There is some consideration about skipping past Level 3 because drivers often might not be able to take over quickly enough to assist in handling a difficult situation.

Super Cruise will be formally unveiled at press days of the New York International Auto Show, during press days Wednesday and Thursday. The 10-day public show beings Friday.

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