Test Drive: Cadillac’s Super Cruise is a taste of the future of autonomous driving
We travelled to Quebec City to test drive the 2018 Cadillac CT6, the first Cadillac vehicle with Super Cruise, a semi-autonomous driving system built for North American highways.
Written by Christina Gonzales
Set your speed. Once the green light on your steering wheel turns on, Super Cruise has been activated. Take your hands off the wheel and your foot off the gas pedal. Super Cruise is now driving your car.
It’s not as simple as the above, of course. Cadillac engineers have mapped out certain conditions in which Super Cruise can be activated, if at all. One of the conditions is a defined off and on ramp, the other is precision LiDAR map data, a 3-D mapping system that allows Super Cruise to learn the road—its turns, elevations and the location of lanes. In simpler terms, Super Cruise only activates on highways that have already been programmed into its system using LiDAR maps.
On top of that, Super Cruise is not a fully autonomous vehicle; it’s semi-autonomous. Alongside LiDAR mapping, it also uses facial recognition to learn the driver’s face. Should the driver not have his or her eyes on the road, Super Cruise will warn the driver with in-seat vibrations and a red-lit steering wheel. (For the avid texters out there, we’re not quite at the point where you can text and drive.) If the driver is completely unresponsive to Super Cruise’s warning signals, and he or she fails to take over the vehicle, (say, the driver has become unconscious), Super Cruise would turn the car’s hazard lights on, and slow to a complete stop.
As a driver, activating Super Cruise is a surreal experience. Before this point in time, driving has been fully controlled by human skill and judgement. Letting go of that control takes some getting used to; taking both hands off the wheel, and taking your foot off the gas pedal, whilst going 100 kilometres per hour on a freeway, is both frightening and daunting. That’s for the first five-to-10 minutes, at least. But the Super Cruise technology is eerily easy to trust. A few minutes in, and we’re whizzing past large transport trucks. Curve in the highway? Not a problem. We’re smack dab in the middle of our lane, and the wheel is turning itself. Creepy, yet astonishing to watch.
Before I know it, I’m settling into being a co-driver. I turn my head to the right to look at the other journalist in the passenger’s seat. She’s relaxed; she wants to engage in conversation. But turning my head away from the road was a mistake: my chair starts vibrating, and the light on the steering wheel has turned red. Whoops, I took my eyes off the road. There’s limits to Super Cruise; it still needs me to be attentive.
Roll out and The Cadillac CT6
Currently the Super Cruise package is only available on Cadillac CT6 sedans, though it will be rolled out to all Cadillac products by 2020, and across all General Motors vehicles in the future (the exact year is yet to be determined). The CT6 is a marvel of luxury in and of itself. Its comfort is unparalleled: massage seating for driver and passengers, rear-camera mirror, a panoramic sunroof, Head-Up Display (HUD), and more.
It’s true that Super Cruise is a wonder for the future of autonomous vehicles, and a benefit for those who are always on the road. But it’s also a luxury now, in 2018. Who knows? In 20 years Super Cruise may just be commonplace.