New York — General Motors Co.’s long-awaited Super Cruise semi-automated driving system will debut this fall on the 2018 Cadillac CT6 as a $2,500 option, the automaker said Monday.
The technology represents GM’s biggest step yet in the direction of selling fully self-driving cars to real-life drivers. Super Cruise will allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel and foot off the pedals while driving on divided highways such as Interstates 75 or 94. It accelerates, brakes, steers and keeps the car centered in the lane, even in stop-and-go traffic.
And if its mapping system detects the car is on a city street or two-lane highway, Super Cruise is disabled and puts control fully in the hands of the driver.
Super Cruise, delayed from coming out last year, illustrates a more conservative approach than some of its competitors. Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot system for instance, warns against driving on congested city streets but does nothing to stop drivers from doing so. And Tesla is moving to equip all its cars with fully autonomous capability, though they aren’t programmed to drive on their own yet.
GM has been working on Super Cruise for years. Five years ago, the automotive press got a demonstration at GM’s Milford Proving Ground. GM said in September 2014 it would be deployed in about two years. In January 2016, GM confirmed it was delaying the roll-out in order to continue working on it.
GM says its driver-assist system has an added level of safety than competitors’ systems that rely only on steering-wheel input and warning messages to re-engage a driver.
“When we were developing Super Cruise, we knew it was important to keep the driver engaged during operation,” said Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Cadillac Super Cruise, in a statement. “That’s why we’ve added a driver-attention function, to insist on driver supervision.”
Here’s how that facial-recognition fail-safe system works: A small camera on the top of the steering column works with infrared lights that track a driver’s head position and to know where the driver is looking. If the system notices a driver’s eyes are diverted for too long, it will prompt the driver to return attention to the road.
If the driver doesn’t refocus on the road right away, Super Cruise will safely steer until the system further escalates warnings to the driver. Those include lights on the steering wheel, visual indicators in the instrument cluster — and vibrations in the seat and audible alerts, if necessary. If a driver is completely unresponsive, the CT6 will come to a controlled stop and OnStar will alert rescue personnel.
“They’re not taking it quite as quickly as some companies — taking a little more care that the technology won’t be misused or abused,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst with Navigant Research.
While Tesla recommends its drivers don’t operate Autopilot on undivided highways or in cities, Abuelsamid said, “They don’t have any features to prevent their customers from using it anywhere and everywhere.” GM does.
The Detroit automaker is working on fully autonomous vehicles including an all-electric Chevrolet Bolt that it will build at the Orion Assembly Plant. The company and its Cruise Automation subsidiary are testing dozens of fully autonomous vehicles in California, Arizona and Michigan. GM also is working with ride-hailing company Lyft Inc.; the two companies want to deploy autonomous Bolts as part of pilot projects.
GM says Super Cruise will be the first driver-assist technology to use precision LiDAR map data and real-time cameras, sensors and GPS. Cars use real-time information from cameras and sensors to control steering, braking and acceleration.
Super Cruise adds the LiDAR map data to only let the car go where it detects “appropriate road conditions” and it is limited to divided highways with “on” and “off” ramps.
“American drivers travel twice as many miles on urban and suburban highways as they do on rural roads,” Walkup said. “Super Cruise allows hands-free driving and operates only within the environment where it has the most benefit.
“While it is technically possible for the technology to drive hands-free on other kinds of streets and roads, we feel strongly that this targeted approach is the best to build consumer and regulatory confidence and enthusiasm for advanced mobility.”
A Cadillac spokesman declined comment on expected sales for Super Cruise, which will be available on certain CT6 models in the fall. IHS senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said she expects GM will introduce the feature relatively quickly into other brands and vehicles.
“You can introduce it on a luxury brand, but you can’t keep it there,” she said. “People equate these things with safety, and the expectation is that you kind of make everything that’s going to make you a little bit safer available.”
Staff Writer Jim Lynch contributed.