Cadillac is one carmaker that's capitalizing on the autonomous car limbo we're currently in. The prevalence of autonomous cars is still pretty far away, due to technological, logistical, legislative, and infrastructure hurdles, not to mention the fact that most drivers actually fear sharing the road with driverless cars (according to a AAA survey). But that doesn't mean carmakers can't do something about it now, meaning develop Level 2 technology where the vehicle is assisting the driver to make driving less tiresome when it's wise to do so. That's what Cadillac's Super Cruise technology is all about. 

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We were invited to test out the new system in Chicago's trendy Fulton Market and the adjacent expressway. We departed from the swanky Ace Hotel on Morgan Street in the 2018 Cadillac CT6 outfitted with Super Cruise technology. Needless to say, we were pretty thrilled to try the system in the real world but still a bit skeptical about how it would perform on one of Chicago's busiest roadways.

What is Super Cruise?

2018 cadillac ct6 window

Cadillac touts its new Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving technology as "driver assist technology" that's meant to alleviate the rigors of highway and long commute driving. Cadillac states that it's "the industry's first true hands-free driving technology for the freeway," although it bears many similarities to Telsa's Autopilot feature found on the Model S and Model X vehicles. Both systems can take over driving duties on highways in the right circumstances and keep lane position, adjust speed/braking, and steer the car within the lane without taking actual turns or exit ramps. 

How Does Super Cruise Work?

Cadillac Super Cruise Functions

Super Cruise doesn't work everywhere. Its "operational domain" is open roads and highways that have been pre-mapped by GM. You might think Caddy's new system is the same as Tesla's Autopilot but Super Cruise is different, in that utilizes both a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) mapping system and a nifty driver attention system. The LiDAR system itself doesn't retain all the data in the vehicle. Instead, what GM does is aggregate all its accumulated data from hundreds of thousands of miles of highway driving across the country. Its fleet of LiDAR mapping cars have been used to image highways where Super Cruise may be used, and then provides that vital information over the air. 

Cadillac Super Cruise Blue Line

It makes use of HD Mapping via USHR (formerly GeoDigital), as well as Trimble GPS, which can locate the Super Cruise equipped CT6 within a mere two meters of its actual location. There's a front-facing camera that detects lane markings and sets your vehicle as close to the center of the lane. The map database that receives over the air information provides information to the Super Cruise system in terms the number of lanes, road curvature, entrance/exit ramps, etc., while the GPS data determines what lane your vehicle is actually in. The car's adaptive cruise control system manages speed and braking. These systems work in conjunction with each other when the system is active to keep the vehicle in the proper position in the lane, steers the car gently within the lane, and at safe distances from other vehicles.

Cadillac Super Cruise Driver Attention

The Driver Attention system is also a vital part of Super Cruise, meaning it's not a truly autonomous system and must incorporate the driver's attention level with Super Cruise. The system tracks the driver's head position via a driver attention camera and infrared emitters located in the actual steering wheel. The steering wheel-mounted light notification system (light bar located at the top), as well as audio alerts provide notification to the driver if inattention is detected. Here's how the system escalates, if necessary:

  1. Steering wheel icon on the instrument cluster is white: Super Cruise unavailable.
  2. Steering wheel icon is green: Super Cruise is available for use. 
  3. Steering wheel light bar is solid green: Super Cruise is active.
  4. Steering wheel light bar flashes green: Escalation 1; inattention is detected; visual attention required only. 
  5. Steering wheel light flashes red; steering wheel icon on instrument cluster is red; audible chime or seat vibration activates; Escalation 2; prolonged inattention detected; Super Cruise deactivates, manual attention required.
  6. Steering wheel light flashes red; steering wheel icon on instrument panel is red; audible chime or seat vibration activates; voice prompt activates; brakes automatically applied and brings the car to a complete stop with hazard lights activated; OnStar is notified of emergency.

How Did Super Cruise Perform?

Cadillac Super Cruise Kennedy

At first, we were a bit skeptical about hitting the very busy Kennedy Expressway (I-90) in Chicago with this new technology, but we were also pretty curious as to how it would perform. After the presentation on Super Cruise tech, we sat in the driver's seat of a CT6 Platinum with a Cadillac representative riding shotgun. As soon as we merged onto the Kennedy, there was quite a bit of fast-moving traffic. The system saw that conditions weren't right to engage Super Cruise, and we waited for the green steering wheel icon to show up on the dash. After a few minutes of driving, the system signaled us that it was ready. we depressed the button on the steering wheel, and the green steering wheel light bar illuminated, letting us know that the system was in full operation.

We set our speed to 70 mph on the adaptive cruise control, as well as the follow distance via steering wheel controls. The Super Cruise kept the car positioned in the center of the lane and more than adeptly managed long sweepers on the Kennedy. Even with numerous cars traveling in excess of 60 mph, the system held steady and adjusted the speed and managed braking better than most drivers do. But the system disengages often, likely sensing that the environment and conditions aren't ideal for Super Cruise. Nothing felt abrupt, and progression while slowing felt totally natural and well-planned. The Driver Attention System did its work properly as our eyes deviated from the road, but it can't tell the difference between the driver adjusting climate controls or looking at our smartphone. It just knows you're not paying attention to the road. Where GM hasn't mapped, or where there are long sections of construction that have been input into the mapping data, the system isn't available. 

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Also, since Super Cruise places you in that center spot in the lane using lane markers, when those disappear, the system tends to pull you close to the lines that exist. For example, as we were entering an area where the shoulder line was missing for about 30 yards (due to a short area of repaving on the Kennedy), Super Cruise moved us to the right-side lane markings and fairly close to the car in the lane next to us. On the one hand, it shows that the system is working, but on the other hand, it puts the car in a less-than-ideal situation, since there are no side-mounted cameras that can compensate for another vehicle that might be too close in that particular situation. 

Conclusion

cadillac super cruise testing

It's encouraging to see GM embark on such technology. Super Cruise is promising, in that it provides for Level 2 autonomy that's at least a step beyond adaptive cruise control with lane keeping assist. The environment in which we tested, however, was not the ideal "operational domain". For those drivers who endure long, open road commutes, the system makes total sense and would likely seem worth the extra $5,000 option (available on the CT6 Premium Luxury trim; standard on Platinum).

What's more, Super Cruise points us to the future of what autonomous driving could look like. Though Cadillac states it's a "driver assist system" and not an autonomous one, the technology used is pretty brilliant. We can't wait to see what Super Cruise is like in an ideal environment and what the next generation of Super Cruise holds.