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Hands-Free Caddy: 2018 Cadillac CT6 Launches Super Cruise Semi-Autonomous Feature

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.

‘Super Cruise’ Control Does All The Driving – USA TODAY

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.

Drivers Go Hands-Free on Highway – Detroit News

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.