Self-driving cars, long a dream among automotive futurists, will be arriving in quantity on American roads in the next few months, and it will be Cadillac – not Tesla – that will be pushing the state of the self-driving art.
Cadillac’s entry in the self-driving derby is called Super Cruise, and it’s different from – and superior to — Tesla’s Autopilot in several important respects:
Limited to limited access highways
First off, Cadillac’s self-driving system will only activate itself on limited access high-speed roads that have already been mapped by GeoDigital, a GM-owned company that creates super-accurate, real-time 3D maps of U.S. highways. This limitation skillfully sidesteps the problem of requiring an automated system to make consistently error-free decisions at four-way intersections, on rural roads that may not be suitable for autonomous driving, and in other difficult situations. (Until all cars on the road are self-driving, and all roads fully mapped, humans will still be needed to negotiate unexpected roadside conditions that no computer can predict or effectively respond to).
GeoDigital’s 3D maps are an indispensable part of Super Cruise, although they’re not the only data source relied upon by Cadillac’s system:
Software aboard the car pulls up the relevant features such road curvature, road trajectory (horizontal/vertical/slope), the lane markings, and roadside attributes. These critical spatial insights are dynamically served to the vehicle’s control system in readiness for steering, braking, speed and signaling commands. This approach provides the critical information more quickly and reliably than artificial processing alone – particularly when traveling at high speeds.
Information drawn from the 3D map is – along with GPS data – integrated with the real-time data provided by on-board cameras and sensors. The result is the most advanced, accurate, and reliable hands-free driving system available today.
Reminding the driver that he/she is driving
Secondly, Cadillac’s system watches the driver as closely as its digital system watches the road. This solves the driver inattention/complacency problem, which militates against the reality that drivers must always be prepared to take over if the automated system suffers a failure or an unanticipated emergency arises requiring human intervention.
Cadillac’s Super Cruise addresses the issue with a steering wheel-mounted camera aimed at the driver. Using images from this camera and infrared lights tracking the driver’s head position, Cadillac’s system uses an escalating system of alerts to make sure the driver keeps his/her attention on the road.
If the system detects the driver has turned attention away from the road ahead for too long, it will prompt the driver to return attention to the road ahead. If the driver does not immediately refocus on the road, Super Cruise will continue to safely steer until a further escalation of alerts prompts the driver to resume supervision. If the system determines continued inattentiveness, a steering wheel light bar guides the driver to look at the road or take back control of the wheel. Additional alerts can include visual indicators in the instrument cluster, tactile alerts in the Cadillac’s Safety Alert Seat and audible alerts, if necessary. In the limited event of an unresponsive driver, the Cadillac CT6 utilizes the full capability of onboard driver assistance technologies to bring the car to a controlled stop and contact OnStar to alert first responders, if necessary.
Ready for the Interstate
Cadillac’s Super Cruise isn’t the last word in self-driving cars, because autonomous capabilities will certainly advance rapidly in the next few years. But it’s a powerful initial statement that Cadillac – and its parent company GM – isn’t going to be sitting on the sidelines in the race to a fully autonomous automobile. Super Cruise ups the ante because it’s not a demo project or limited deployment test – it’s a fully functional Level 2 (partial automation) system ready for use on the Interstate Highway System, where millions of miles are racked up each year.
Super Cruise will be available as an option for selected models in Cadillac’s 2018 line-up, including the CT6 Luxury Sedan. If you have an interest in experiencing the state of the self-driving art in action, it’s time to visit your local Cadillac dealer and take a test drive.