GM Super Cruise – Tesla Autopilot for Everyone?

October 2020 – General Motor’s Super Cruise autopilot system is considered one of the most robust driver assistant systems available, next to Tesla’s own Autopilot, earning high marks from Consumer Reports overall. Although Consumer Reports finds Tesla Autopilot more capable, it favors Super Cruise since the system allows for true hands-off driving by using eye-tracking, similar to the openpilot from Comma.ai, and is only available on pre-mapped roads.

GM is not standing still and in 2020, upgraded its Super Cruise system in Cadillacs by giving vehicles the capability to make lane changes on demand, a feature Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot has had for a while. GM’s Super Cruise enhancement is the most extensive updating of the driver assisted system since the automaker’s 2017 rollout of the technology in the 2018 model year CT6 sedan.

GM Super Cruise Changes Lanes

Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free driving system now allows drivers to change lanes automatically. While using the driver assistance feature under the old system, switching lanes requires you to look for the gap. When you see it, flip the turn signal, and start turning the steering wheel, the blue light on the wheel turns green. The light change means the system is returning full vehicle control to you for executing the lane change. Once you’ve completed it, the driving system reengages and the green light turns blue again.

With the upgraded version of Cadillac’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system, the car retains control of the lane-switching maneuver. By activating the turn signal, you alert the car to begin looking for a gap in the lane. Messages on the gauge cluster give status reports, telling you the vehicle is searching for an opening or changing lanes. When the car finds the right size space, it moves into it. However, even though the car is handling the lane change, watching the road remains your responsibility.

To give motorists continuing confidence in this new lane-changing capability, Mario Maiorana, Super Cruise chief engineer, led GM’s team in producing improved hardware and software. So how does the vehicle know when to stay in its lane or shift? Upgrades of rear-facing sensors and advancements in software algorithms enable the system to track vehicles as they approach from behind. HD map information provides greater detail, enhanced steering control, and changes in the user interface help the Super Cruise system navigate highway interchanges.

Self-Driving Technology Evolves

The evolution of self-driving car technology continues as automakers make progress toward producing totally hands-free vehicles for consumers. Under the United States Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes six levels of motor vehicle automation. Level 0, no automation, means the driver performs all tasks. Level 5, full automation, means the vehicle is able to perform all tasks and human driver operation is optional. See “What Do SAE Self-Driving Levels Mean?”

GM Super Cruise provides “Level 2+”, partial automation. Level 2 vehicles handle tasks such as steering or acceleration. However, a human driver must be always be engaged with operating the vehicle and paying attention to the environment.

How Super Cruise Works

Super Cruise works as a semi-autonomous system that includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic emergency braking. The vehicle allows hands-free operation only when it can tell the driver is watching the road ahead. Sensors of its infrared monitoring system follow the driver’s eye movements. So, your car knows whether you’re paying attention to traffic or the burger on the console beside you. If you appear not be paying attention, it uses lights, audible sounds, and seat vibrations to alert you. When it doesn’t get the proper response within a certain time, the vehicle slows, calls an Onstar operator, turns on hazard lights, and stops, disabling the system.

Super Cruise uses high-definition maps manually generated by a fleet of vehicles using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). While it’s similar to radar, LiDAR operates with light waves of a shorter wavelength. LiDAR emits laser waves, rather than radar’s long radio sound waves. This technology enhances safety by providing a detailed map of major highways allowing the vehicle to know precisely where the lane should be in addition on using its onboard cameras and GPS for real-time information.

Vehicles with Super Cruise on compatible LiDAR-mapped highways receive a continuous flow of information on road conditions for about 1.5 miles ahead. Data including exit-only lanes and curves feeds into the system, so drivers can respond and resume vehicle control when needed.

How Cadillac Super Cruise Compares to Tesla Autopilot

Tesla’s Autopilot technology doesn’t use HD Maps since Tesla feels their is no need to do so. Tesla uses radar and cameras to sense the environment in real-time, just like a human driver would via a powerful neural network computer, called the Full Self-Driving Computer. This allows Tesla vehicles to operate on almost any road where lane markings are clear, as opposed to Super Cruise vehicles that can only operate on LiDAR mapped roads.

General Motors Super Cruise and Tesla Autopilot have different Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS). While GM’s system monitors eye movement, Tesla Autopilot uses steering wheel pressure to gauge whether a driver has hands on the wheel or is paying attention. Tesla drivers have been seen circumventing the system, using objects such as bottles or bananas to simulate hands-on vehicle operation, whereas it’s much harder to do so with Super Cruise’s eye-tracking system.

Overall, Tesla offers a more sophisticated and advanced system with promises of full self-driving coming soon that is continually updated with over-the-air upgrades. That said, Tesla drivers must pay more attention to monitor the system than with Super Cruise which is far more limited in scope but offers a very safe and well-tested hands-free experience.

Among other GM Super Cruise competitors, Co-Pilot360 Assist, Ford’s driver assistance system, uses LiDAR. But EyeSight, Subaru’s autonomous driving system, only uses cameras. See Cars with Autopilot for more.

GM Vehicles With the New Driver Assistance Feature

When GM first introduced its automotive self-driving technology in the Cadillac CT6 sedan, it only worked on a limited number of divided highways. Thanks to GM’s engineers performing a software update and producing new LiDAR map data, motorists in Canada and the United States enjoy Super Cruise on over 200,000 miles of divided highways.

This time around, the automaker is offering its new lane change system on other Cadillac models. If you’re chomping at the bit to try one of GM’s Super Cruise vehicles with the hardware and software updates, plan on buying one with the improved driver-assistance system in the second half of 2020. Vehicle rollouts begin with GM’s 2021 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans and continue with the 2021 model year SUV, Cadillac Escalade.

Additionally, car buyers can choose Super Cruise as an option on all new Cadillac models. Fans of Buick, Chevrolet or GMC should look for the Super Cruise system in those brands after 2021.

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