Detroit, MI – With a contingent of the automotive press on hand for the media launch of the CT4-V and CT5-V performance sedans last week, Cadillac took the opportunity to present as well the new and improved version of its Super Cruise system autonomous driving system.
Originally available only in the CT6 big sedan, Super Cruise will be integrated in the upcoming CT4 and CT5 sedans as well. Version 2.0 benefits from some notable upgrades, made possible in large part by the new electric platform these new models ride on.
So what is Super Cruise?
The system is essentially a highly advanced cruise control feature, which delivers elements of autonomous driving capability. The new version has in its data bank a wide network of North American roads and highways, with 70,000 miles (113,000 km) being added for the upgrade on top of the 160,000 miles (258,000 km) already in memory in the current system at work in CT6 models. CT6 owners will need to contact their dealership, who will update the data bank free of charge.
The update also allows the system to recognize more types of road signs, including rail and pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and stop signs and so on. Mario Maiorana, Super Cruise’s lead engineer in charge of development, confirmed to us as well that refinements are being brought to the system’s steering component to make it operate more smoothly.
How does it work?
As mentioned, Super Cruise is kind of an adaptive cruise control system on steroids, linked via satellite to a map grid and that functions with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and GPS combined with sensors at the front end of the car. These “read” the solid white lines on the sides of roads and dotted lines delineating lanes.
When conditions permit its use (i.e., it can pick up those lines), a steering wheel-shaped icon lights up on the Cadillac’s dashboard. The driver need only push the button on the steering wheel with a similar icon, after having chosen their preferred cruising speed. When a half-circle at the top of the steering wheel lights up in green, it’s possible to take the hands off the wheel and the foot off the accelerator.
The driver does, however, need to maintain eye contact with the road ahead; another sensor in the steering wheel itself monitors the movement of the driver’s eyes. If it detects a lack of focus on what’s ahead, for instance if the driver appears to be falling asleep, the driver’s seat vibrates and soon enough the Super Cruise function is deactivated.
The improvements made to the system make it easier and simpler to activate, and there are 15 new messages that will explain why activation is not possible. In addition, Super Cruise will react mildly when the driving situation gets too tricky (for example, if a truck veers even slightly towards the Cadillac during a passing manoeuvre). Unlike many other competing systems, however, it is not then required for the driver to retake the wheel.
Super Cruise is the most sophisticated autonomous drive system currently on the market (other systems include Drive Pilot by Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla’s Auto Pilot). What’s more, according to Cadillac, the system will get regular updates, roughly once every quarter during the year.
Most sophisticated also means that it is the safest to use, says the automaker. According to Maiorana, more than 30% of CT6 models now on the road feature the system, and a survey of owners shows that drivers use Super Cruise at least 50% of the time when they’re on the highway. In a given week, CT6 drivers use it for a total of 55,000 miles (88,500 km). In Canada, 20% of CT6 buyers have taken the Super Cruise option since it became available.
A quick road test
Cadillac invited journalists in attendance at the presentation to try out the system on the highways surrounding Detroit. We duly did so, in the company of Justin hall, lead engineer for the CT6 sedan. Mission accomplished, with no hiccups and, especially, in full confidence! We were even able to conform how well the system reacts than traffic stops abruptly in front of us. The car accelerated once the traffic began to move again, without us having to push a Resume button like with a regular cruise control system. All the time with no hands on the wheel and no feet on the pedals.
For those of us from Canada or the northern American states, a big question that came to mind was of course how the system functions in the snow. Mario Maiorana had a ready answer: “What the human eye can’t see, the system can’t see either”. Meaning, snow on the ground can affect the system if the road’s lines are obscured; snow can also cover the sensors and prevent them from working properly or at all. Heavy rain and total darkness can also impact on the system’s ability to function.
There was also the question of passing manoeuvres. How does the system function then? Simple: the driver puts their turn signal on, uses the pedals to accelerate and pass the other vehicle and returns to their lane, and Super cruise takes back over. All without any brusqueness.
At present, the Super Cruise system works, and works very well, on highways found in its databank, including Canada’s major highways.
And what does it cost?
A Cadillac CT6 Platinum with the 3.0L turbocharged V6 equipped with super Cruise starts at $96,645 in Canada, gulp. But eventually, probably as of 2020, Super Cruise will be offered as an option (costing close to $6,000) in all Cadillac models. At that more reasonable price, it’s a safe bet that Cadillac will find many more takers for its cutting-edge self-driving system.