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GM’s response to Tesla’s Autopilot, ‘Super Cruise’, finally coming out in 2018 Cadillac CT6

GM has been working on its own driver assist technology ‘Super Cruise’, which it presented as a competitor to Tesla’s Autopilot last year, for a while now. It was first supposed to launch in the 2016 version of the Cadillac CT6 two years ago, but after several delays, the company announced today that it will be available in the 2018 Cadillac CT6 later this year.

They release more information about the semi-autonomous driving system, which is almost presented as a level 3 autonomous driving system – something that is not available today in other vehicles (Tesla’s Autopilot is level 2).

The company describes the system in a press release today:

“The 2018 Cadillac CT6 will feature Super Cruise™, the industry’s first true hands-free driving technology for the highway. Unlike other driver assistance systems, Super Cruise™ utilizes two advanced technology systems — a driver attention system and precision LiDAR map data — to ensure safe and confident vehicle operation.”

GM is walking a dangerous line here by referring to Super Cruise as “hands-free driving”. Other systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot, technically enables drivers to remove their hands from the steering wheel for short periods of times, but the automakers actually recommend to keep hands on the wheel at all time and with Tesla’s Autopilot, an alert will ask them to touch the wheel after an extended period of time.

By not requesting that the driver keeps their hands on the wheel, it could be argued that the system sounds like the level 3 autonomous driving system described by SAE International and adopted by the DOT:

“Level 3 – Conditional Automation: The driving mode-specific performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene”

If GM is advertising that the driver doesn’t need to touch the wheel, it needs to account for an appropriate time for the driver to intervene if needed.

But at the same time, GM is requesting that the driver stay attentive at all time, which is not exactly level 3, and it even implemented what is likely the first driver-facing camera to monitor the driver’s attention:

“The driver attention system uses a small camera located on the top of the steering column that focuses exclusively on the driver and works with infrared lights to track head position to determine where the driver is looking whenever Super Cruise™ is in operation.”

The MIT has been conducting a study of Tesla Autopilot drivers by using a suite of driver-facing sensors. Lex Fridman, the postdoctoral Associate at the MIT Agelab responsible for the study, is convinced that the technology is essential to advancements in self-driving.

Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Cadillac Super Cruise, seems to agree:

“When we were developing Super Cruise™ we knew it was important to keep the driver engaged during operation. That’s why we’ve added a driver attention function, to insist on driver supervision,”

If the system detects that the driver is not paying attention, it will remind them or eventually take the vehicle to a complete stop – not unlike Tesla’s Autopilot if the driver doesn’t respond to several alerts.

GM’s hardware suite is equivalent to Tesla’s first generation Autopilot, which mainly consists of one front-facing camera and one front-facing radar.

They say that they are using lidar sensors, but those are not on the actual Super Cruise-enabled vehicles. They used lidar sensors to map highways and the vehicles will only enable Super Cruise on routes that were mapped by GM’s team:

“This advanced map data restrains Super Cruise™ use to divided, limited-access highways — highways with defined “on-” and “off-ramps.” This approach focuses Super Cruise™’s benefit on highway commutes, a large part of many consumers’ daily driving routines, as well as long-distance travels. It eliminates variables such as intersections and other less predictable potential hazards that can be prevalent on rural roads or city streets.”

GM says that it will be ready this fall in the U.S. and Canadian markets when the 2018 Cadillac CT6 will become available.

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