To show off its latest technology, Cadillac launched a hands-free cross-country drive out of New York City on Monday. Twelve CT6 sedans, armed with “Super Cruise” automation, began the promotional trek from Cadillac House in lower Manhattan to Los Angeles, Ca. But these aren’t robot cars. Drivers will be at the helm and keep their eyes on the road.
The cars use cameras and sensors to direct its machinery. It also relies on high-tech LiDAR (light detection and ranging) map data, which Cadillac says has charted “every limited-access highway in the U.S. and Canada.” The car unleashes a series of warnings if it picks up the driver spacing out or away from the seat and can even stop the vehicle if necessary.
The hands-free technology is limited to highways and some of their ramps. Still, the vehicles will drive through 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, making stops at major cities to tout the high-tech tools.
The Super Cruise system costs $2,500 on top of the $66,290 base price. Drivers also must buy the $3,100 driver assist technology. The publicity drive marks the first time that Super Cruise technology will be used on New York City highways. Cadillac was granted a special license under a new law pushed by Gov. Cuomo.
“Cadillac is setting new industry standards with ground-breaking driver assistance technologies like Super Cruise,” said Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen.
Washington — At 60 miles per hour in the middle lane of busy Interstate 395 that connects the nation’s capital to its suburbs in northern Virginia, I took my hands off the steering wheel of a Cadillac CT6 equipped with General Motors’ new semi-autonomous Super Cruise system.
The system — which allows drivers to go hands-free once they are centered in highway lanes if their adaptive cruise control is turned on — took control from there.
It slowed the Cadillac when a car weaved in front of me, and braked when traffic slowed. When I looked off to one side, cameras monitoring my face caused red warning lights to flash and my seat to vibrate. Returning my gaze to the road ahead was enough to satisfy the system that I was ready to take over in an emergency.
Had I not paid attention, Super Cruise would have activated the car’s emergency flashers, slowed the CT6 to a stop and contacted GM’s OnStar communications system that there was a problem.
When it was time to switch lanes to exit the highway, a green light on top of the steering wheel turned red. The car allowed me to return to Super Cruise mode when I returned to a highway straightaway and centered it again in a lane. I was prompted to take control only when we approached a construction zone.
Drivers are alerted that Super Cruise is available for use when the car senses that it is centered in a lane on a “limited access” highway — the feature can’t be activated on two-lane highways or city streets. With the push of a button, Super Cruise takes over and the driver can go hands — and feet — free.
The Super Cruise system is standard on its high-end Platinum-edition 2018 CT6, which starts at about $85,300. It’s available as an upgrade on its Premium Luxury trims for an additional $5,000 on top of the $66,300 starting price.
A dozen Super Cruise-equipped CT6 sedans on Monday embarked on a cross-country drive to show off the new feature as the automaker begins delivering shipments to its dealerships. The cars will travel from New York to Los Angeles, crossing through 16 states and Washington, D.C., with stops in Cleveland, Chicago, Memphis, Dallas, Santa Fe and Phoenix.
Cadillac says the Super Cruise-equipped CT6’s are guided by lidar (light detection and ranging) mapping technology that is the product of over 130,000 miles of U.S. highway that were mapped out multiple times by its engineers. Lidar mapping works with in-car cameras, radar sensors and GPS to detect every curve and obstacle on the road ahead.
Drivers will be required to purchase an OnStar subscription after the initial three year trial ends to continue using system.
That’s how long a driver can spend checking Instagram while the opulent 2018 version of its CT6 sedan drives itself. Then the first of three escalating warnings are triggered. Still, providing a somewhat-safe moment to scan an e-mail is a heroic feat of coding, one that allows the iconic luxury brand to claim parity with similar systems built by Mercedes, Volvo, and most of all, Tesla.
General Motors isn’t squandering this fleeting moment of glory. On Monday, it kicked off a coast-to-coast semi-autonomous trip from Cadillac’s New York headquarters—with a state police escort out of town no less—and gave us a seat for the first leg, all the way to the nation’s capital. (For speed freaks, the new CT6 is actually a five-second vehicle, as far as getting to 60 mph is concerned.)
Cadillac is marketing the gear—dubbed “Super Cruise”—as the “first, true hands-free” driving application on the road. It’s a bold claim for a brand so late to the robo-pilot party, but it’s not inaccurate. To date, similar systems have required a little steering feedback to ensure the driver is paying attention—a little hand, if you will. Cadillac engineers went in a different direction, planting a face-detection camera in the top arc of the steering wheel that constantly stares at its commander.
The downside: One gets a creepy feeling of being watched. The upside: One can safely crush a hefty cheeseburger at speeds up to 85 mph.
The Cadillac system will accelerate, brake, and keep a safe following distance per the pre-set cruise speed while carving gracefully through the corners. It wasn’t even phased by dark sunglasses, the purported bugaboo of face-scanning tech.
But Super Cruise is far less fun or spontaneous than the name suggests. The hardware—a web of radar-blasting pods and seven cameras, including an infrared unit—only works on freeways with exits and on-ramps, and only when cruise-control is activated and the vehicle is traveling dead-center in a lane. When the stately sled is compliant with those three prerequisites, an instrument panel token prompts that the system is ready and it takes control with a push of a button.
When in doubt, however, the CT6 defers to analog driving. For long stretches between New York’s Cadillac House and Washington, on pristine sections of the New Jersey Turnpike, the system stubbornly declined to launch. Meanwhile, changing lanes has to be done the old-fashioned way, and Cadillac warns drivers not to use the system in a tunnel, construction zone, or rainstorm. (Good luck Seattleites!)
While Tesla has swaggered about its self-driving aspirations, going so far as to call its system “autopilot,” GM is being far more conservative—playing the sober step-dad to Elon Musk’s cool uncle. “We do not seek to replace the driver,” said Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen. “True luxury means the flexibility of choice.”
For a road warrior stuck with a brutal daily commute, Super Cruise will be a balm—smoothing jangled nerves just a tad. But it won’t make a driver any more productive or well-rested.
As I zipped out of Manhattan and into New Jersey, jets from Newark Liberty hurtled overhead, filled with passengers binging on Broad Cityand scrolling through Trump tweetstorms. Down below, I sat behind the wheel with my arms folded, focused on the road ahead. Super Cruise felt like a box of Blue Apron groceries: The meal is meticulously planned and the ingredients prepped, but I still had to cook it.
Cadillac is well aware that Super Cruise is a small step even for an incremental one. The CT6 will be its only vehicle equipped with the self-driving system next year. And unless a customer opts for the most luxurious trim, Super Cruise will cost $5,000 extra.
In short, the burgeoning brand is not banking on Super Cruise to win customers away from BMW, Mercedes, or even Tesla. Few will buy a CT6 because it has a self-driving widget. But the system may keep quite a few potential buyers from ruling out the sedan entirely.
Cadillac chief de Nysschen called self-driving systems a critical step in the brand’s “long journey back to the pinnacle of premium.” In last year’s luxury car market, it was a neat trick. Next year, it’s table stakes. Cadillac just anted up.
Cadillac has been touting its Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving technology for several years and contrasting it with Tesla’s Autopilot system.
While Tesla has been fine with rolling out Autopilot in beta-ish fashion, gathering data and updating on the fly, Cadillac and parent General Motors have exercised abundant caution.
But Super Cruise is now live, and Cadillac invited me to test it out on a drive from New York City to Washington, DC. (This was the first leg of a coast-to-coast jaunt, and some of my fellow journalists would continue on from Washington to Cleveland.)
It was just me, a cooler of snacks and refreshments that Caddy had provided, and 226 miles of mostly highway driving in Cadillac’s flagship sedan, the CT6.
A cadre of curious scriveners gathered at Cadillac House in lower Manhattan, saddled up in their cars, and after a languid tour of the island under police escort and some helicopter cameras — no Super Cruise involved due to low speeds — I aimed the CT6’s elegant nose south and hit the New Jersey Turnpike.
Then I waited for Super Cruise to offer its services. In a press conference before we departed, Cadillac head Johan de Nysschen called SuperCruise the first fully hand-free freeway driving technology, so the next few hours would strain my belief that no one should ever trust a current-generation semi-self-driving technology enough to take their hands off the wheel.
However, in the interest of journalism, I decided to suspend my reservations and give Caddy the benefit of the doubt. For the next five hours (traffic was intermittently horrible, extending what ideally would be about a three-to-four hour drive) I would let the CT6 handle its own steering.
Super Cruise, like Tesla Autopilot, isn’t truly a self-driving technology — not in the same way that Waymo’s experimental vehicles have managed a wide variety of mobile challenges with limited human intervention.
Cadillac’s tech is essentially advanced cruise control plus situational automated steering. The carmaker has carefully defined its operating rules, starting with restricting to divided highways only (no oncoming traffic) where onramp-and-offramp access is extensive.
Beyond that, according to Caddy the SuperCruise algorithm demands that: adaptive cruise control is active; the forward collision system is set to alert and brake; the vehicle is on a limited-access freeway; camera or radar sensors are not covered, obstructed, or damaged; the system detects that the driver appears attentive; lane markings are clearly visible, not blurred by weather or other factors; and the “Teen Driver” feature isn’t on.
I engaged in such distractions while in the CT6 — again, journalism — and the system performed as advertised, dispensing warnings that I’ll detail in a moment. I’m not sure if I over violated the Super Cruise protocols, but it did seem to go into hibernation mode at one point, disabling itself until I stopped for lunch and then fired the car back up. For the record, if you repeatedly ignore the warnings and deactivations, the vehicle will eventually slow down and then stop itself, and make a call to OnStar, GM’s safety-and-communications software.
So how does it work?
Cadillac and GM have used laser-radar (Lidar) mapping to suss out 130,000 miles of highways, so SuperCruise is starting with a detailed digital landscape. For example, it won’t make itself available to the driver if the highway being used isn’t up to par, due to construction, for example.
Once you have adaptive cruise control (ACC) on, as well as collision avoidance, and have set the cruising system — a familiar process to any owner of a modern luxury vehicle with ACC — Super Cruise will signal that it’s ready by bringing up a steering-wheel icon on the cluster. Then you simply push the corresponding button on the steering wheel, and the entire cruise-control system goes green and a green light bar at the top of the wheel illuminates.
Then you can safely remove your hands from the wheel, restrained only by your own lack of anxiety about a self-steering $82,000 sedan.
The actual steering is human-like in long, sweeping curves — Super Cruise seems to plot a gradual arc — but in tighter curves, the system shimmies its way through in a manner that’s similar to what Tesla’s Autopilot does. There’s an occasional wiggle when some lane-keeping calculations are underway, but otherwise, Super Cruise is pretty placid. Even being hemmed in by three semis at 65 mph on the Jersey Pike didn’t seem to perturb it, and that’s usually a white-knuckle situation that compels me to take back total control.
If your eyes wander, the green light bar flashes to bring you back on point, and it you persist, red flashes are accompanied by a seat buzz. Continued obliviousness prompts more rapid red flashing, a warning message on the cluster, and a voice command telling you take control while the system deactivates (ACC remains on, however, as does the collision-avoidance tech).
For what it’s worth, Super Cruise works in both the CT6’s Tour and Sport modes, but toggling between them when the system is on makes no discernible difference in how the steering functions.
If you take the wheel while the system is humming away, to change lanes for instance (which Super Cruise, unlike Tesla Autopilot, doesn’t do), the steering-wheel light bar then the icons on the cluster turn blue for a moment, then revert to green.
So what’s the overall Super Cruise experience like?
I didn’t use it long enough to fairly review the technology, but I got a good idea of what it can and cannot do. It wasn’t consistently available on my 200-mile-plus drive, but that can be chalked up to the system’s inherent caution. It essentially will function only for stretches where you aren’t likely to get yourself in trouble and will have adequate time to retake control.
Thanks to the camera that’s keeping an eye on you the whole time, shenanigans are difficult, a big point in Super Cruise’s favor. You aren’t steering, but you are monitoring the tech. This degraded my situational awareness less than I thought it would. But if I used Super Cruise often, I could see how that might change.
Obviously, it’s possible to do stuff with your hands that might have formerly required intricate manual choreography. Air guitar. Juggling. Opening a tin of Altoids. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
At the end of my ride, I concluded that Super Cruise is excellent and reduces about 10%-15% of the cognitive demand of a long drive. I often use ACC, and I find that on long highway stretches, I can manage the steering with one hand. Taking away that requirement lowered my stress level and left me feeling slightly less fried mentally when I arrived in DC and landed in typical rush-hour traffic in our nation’s capital.
For anyone who routinely pilots the country’s vast highways, this could make Super Cruise more than worth the upgrade, which will amount to $5,000 extra bucks to finance the combined Lidar-camera setup.
I’ve spent my time with Tesla Autopilot and more recently with Volvo’s Pilot Assist feature. None are truly autonomous systems — rather, they layer automated steering on top of adaptive cruise control.
Volvo’s system made me just as nervous as Tesla’s more ambitious technology. Super Cruise wound up boring me, but in a good way. Autopilot purports to do much, but it’s still unclear how much confidence it can inspire (in me, not enough to go hands-free). Super Cruise left me feeling slightly more comfortable about hands-free driving, but only slightly, and that’s because the system is masterful at restricting itself to what it does well.
We’re in the early stages of the “iterative” approach to self-driving cars, with some automakers adding semi-autonomous features to vehicles consumers can buy today. Other companies, like Waymo, are shooting the Moon and striving to leapfrog the iterative improvements, aiming for full-on autonomy and assuming that wildly expensive technologies will fall in price.
The bottom line for my limited experience with SuperCruise is that it’s a very General Motors approach to self-driving (although don’t forget that GM also bought self-driving startup Cruise Automation is has begun making vehicles with far greater urban autonomous capability). Slow, steady, and careful wins the race, especially when demand for costly new self-driving tech is uncertain.
That’s doubtless why Super Cruise is coming first to Cadillac, and for the early rollout, will be available only on the CT6 for now. Caddy has been around for over 100 years. No need to rush into the future.
Hands-free autonomous driving is no longer the stuff of Silicon Valley dreams and bug-eyed research vehicles. With Cadillac’s long-awaited Super Cruise feature, which launches this month in the 2018 CT6, drivers will be able to buy a car that can drive itself on many highways. Unlike existing semi-autonomous driver-assistance systems from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volvo, you don’t have to keep a hand on the wheel or retake control of the car after a few seconds. Super Cruise is designed to drive the car by itself for hours on end without driver intervention.
Of course, there are limitations. General Motors describes Super Cruise as a Level 2 autonomous system, one in which the system can handle steering, acceleration, and braking while operational. While it doesn’t require a frequent hand on the wheel, it does require human monitoring.
So far it works on the 130,000 miles of highways in the United States and Canada that Cadillac has specially mapped (including those that a caravan of CT6s are currently using in a cross-country journey showcasing the technology). Super Cruise works only on divided highways that have no intersections, and it cannot perform sophisticated maneuvers such as changing lanes. It will not work above 85 mph or in a snowstorm, and it can behave like a peeved parent. If you start horsing around behind the wheel—turning away too much to interact with your passenger or watch a movie—it will stop the car.
Nevertheless, after a test ride in a 2018 CT6 outfitted with the new option, it is clear Super Cruise represents a milestone in the race toward autonomy. And more important for Cadillac, it’s an optional feature buyers are not going to want to do without. Super Cruise arrives in showrooms this month and will be a $5000 option on the Premium Luxury model, which starts at $66,290, and standard on the $85,290 Platinum model.
Even after logging many hours in experimental autonomous cars and tens of thousands of miles using driver-assistance systems, it was still disquieting to push the Super Cruise button and let go of the controls for the first time. But within minutes, I felt confident enough to allow the CT6 to negotiate narrow lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike as we squeezed between multiple tractor-trailers and concrete barriers at 65 mph. There was none of the anxiety-inducing ping-ponging within lanes that the likes of BMW and Tesla systems can produce. GM’s Super Cruise kept the car on the straight and narrow, and its unwavering steering instilled confidence.
It accomplishes this using cameras and radar, but without expensive onboard lidar sensors. Instead, GM has utilized lidar beforehand to make high-resolution 3D maps that act as a proxy for onboard lidar and contain detailed information on elevation changes, guardrails, and bridge abutments.
Still, there are plenty of situations on the highway that Super Cruise cannot handle. It cannot account for new construction (although it dealt with minor stretches of road work on my test drive without handing back control), and it will not anticipate maneuvers by human drivers. At one point, a car merging on my right had to slow down to enter the highway; Super Cruise drove like a true New Yorker, refusing to budge one bit to let the fellow in.
To ensure you’re always aware of what’s going on, Super Cruise uses an attention-detection system to ensure the human behind the wheel can retake control in the event a handoff is requested. Infrared sensors in the steering wheel and a video camera in the top of the steering column keep tabs on the driver’s eye movements and head position. Misbehave or block the camera and the car goes through various warning levels. If the driver continues to be unresponsive, it will ultimately bring the vehicle to a halt within the lane of travel, an aspect of Super Cruise that has already raised safety concerns from federal regulators.
In the realm of firsts, Audi is touting its forthcoming Traffic Jam Pilot package for the 2019 A8 as the first “conditional automated driving” system, one that lets drivers give up control to a self-driving machine and turn their attention to things like onboard entertainment. Audi calls it the first true Level 3 system. Drivers don’t need to monitor operations.
When it comes to comparisons, though, it should be noted the two systems have fundamentally different use cases. Traffic Jam Pilot is targeted toward commuters who want to avoid the drudgery of stop-and-go traffic, and it works at speeds lower than 37 mph, while Super Cruise is optimized for highway travel.
Perhaps more important for motorists itching to get their hands on the latest tech, the Audi A8 with this option has yet to appear in showrooms—and the Cadillac CT6 is here now.
Hands-free tech arriving soon on some Cadillac CT6s.
By Nathan Bomey
WASHINGTON, As I merged onto the freeway, a strip of lights on the top of the steering wheel turned green. My moment of truth had arrived. I let go of the wheel and took my foot off the accelerator. The car, a 2018 Cadillac CT6 sedan, began driving itself. In a test drive of the new partially self-driving car technology offered by General Motors, I zipped around the Washington, D.C., area for about an hour Monday, often allowing the car to drive itself on the freeway for minutes at a time. It was briefly unnerving, but jitters quickly gave way to trust as the car stayed safely centered in its lane, alternately braking and accelerating like a professional driver. The technology, dubbed Super Cruise, which starts shipping to dealerships this week on premium versions of the CT6, worked precisely as described. The technology allows you to take your hands off the wheel and feet off the accelerator and brakes. It works only on highways or freeways with ramp access, not in city driving, which is harder for self-driving cars. Super Cruise is an interim step toward full autonomous driving. For now, it’s state-of-the-art, providing a capability similar to Tesla’s Autopilot system, which also requires that the driver stay alert and occasionally take part in guiding the car. It also adds a new safety feature that federal regulators want automakers to embrace as an extra layer of protection. The Super Cruise package, which includes adaptive cruise control, is a $5,000 option on the CT6. The CT6 Platinum comes with it standard at a base price of $85,290. It works like this: Once you’re centered in the lane, the steering wheel’s green strip lights up, signaling that you can let the car start driving itself. Using advanced GPS, cameras and sensors, the car stays dead center in the lane, deftly handling curves and staying a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead of it. A driver-facing camera monitors your eye movement, without recording video, to ensure that you’re still watching the road. At night, it uses infrared technology to monitor your attentiveness. That’s a feature National Transportation Safety Board members said they want automakers to adopt after a Tesla Model S with Autopilot crashed and killed an Ohio resident who wasn’t paying attention to the road in May 2016. Instead of a camera, Tesla requires the driver to grip the steering wheel so that the vehicle knows the driver is still monitoring the road. Anytime I looked away from the road for more than a few seconds, the green strip started blinking. If the car sensed that I was still distracted after a few seconds, the strip turned red, a chime sounded and the car began coasting, essentially forcing me to take the wheel. If I hadn’t done anything, the car would have come to a gradual, controlled stop in its lane. That’s designed to protect a passenger who is suddenly incapacitated. Tesla’s system does one thing on the freeway that Cadillac’s does not. It can change lanes when the driver activates the turn signal. As I sped along on the Capital Beltway encircling Washington, Super Cruise forced me to pay attention to the road several times. In fact, I’d say it sided toward being overly cautious. When I squinted in bright sunlight, the system gave me the standard warnings anyway, including a buzzer embedded in the seat. That’s a small quibble. I can deal with it. Better safe than sorry. You can take your hands off the wheel and feet off the accelerator and brakes. You still must keep your eyes on the road, though.
BY KEITH LAING
Washington — At 60 miles per hour in the middle lane of busy Interstate 395 that connects the nation’s capital to its suburbs in northern Virginia, I took my hands off the steering wheel of a Cadillac CT6 equipped with General Motors’ new semi-autonomous Super Cruise system.
The system — which allows drivers to go hands-free once they are centered in highway lanes if their adaptive cruise control is turned on — took control from there. It slowed the Cadillac when a car weaved in front of me, and braked when traffic slowed. When I looked off to one side, cameras
monitoring my face caused red warning lights to flash and my seat to vibrate. Returning my gaze to the road ahead was enough to satisfy the system that I was ready to take over in an emergency. Had I not paid attention, Super Cruise would have activated the car’s emergency flashers, slowed the CT6 to a stop and contacted GM’s OnStar communications system that there was a problem. When it was time to switch lanes to exit the highway, a green light on top of the steering wheel turned red. The car allowed me to return to Super Cruise mode when I returned to a highway straightaway and centered it again in a lane. I was prompted to take control only when we approached a construction zone. Drivers are alerted that Super Cruise is available for use when the car senses that it is centered in a lane on a “limited access” highway — the feature can’t be activated on two-lane highways or city streets. With the push of a button, Super Cruise takes over and the driver can go hands — and feet — free. The Super Cruise system is standard on its high-end Platinumedition 2018 CT6, which starts at about $85,300. It’s available as an upgrade on its Premium Luxury trims for an additional $5,000 on top of the $66,300 starting price. A dozen Super Cruise-equipped CT6 sedans on Monday embarked on a cross-country drive to show off the new feature as the General Motors’ Cadillac brand is going on a cross-country drive to show off its version of a car that almost drives itself on the freeway. Automaker begins delivering shipments to its dealerships. The cars will travel from New York to Los Angeles, crossing through 16 states and Washington, D.C., with stops in Cleveland, Chicago, Memphis, Dallas, Santa Fe and Phoenix. Cadillac says the Super Cruise-equipped CT6’s are guided by lidar (light detection and ranging) mapping technology that is the product of over 130,000 miles of U.S. highway that were mapped out multiple times by its engineers. Lidar mapping works with incar cameras, radar sensors and GPS to detect every curve and obstacle on the road ahead. Drivers will be required to purchase an OnStar subscription after the initial three year trial ends to continue using system.