Quebec City – Technology has played a vital role within the vehicle for mobility purposes, but now parts of the auto industry are preparing to make technology the main source of mobility; well, that’s if the driver chooses that method of transportation.
Cadillac’s semi-autonomous Super Cruise technology is an example of just that, currently available only in the company’s flagship CT6 sedan. With a press of a button (only on a divided, limited-access highway), the system scans the highway from various positions and sets the CT6 in the centre of the lane, relieving the driver of the need to use steering, throttle or brake, and this can go on for hours, with the only need for steering inputs during lane changes; after a few seconds, the semi-autonomous drive resumes.
The system can only be activated when a white steering wheel icon appears at the top right of the instrument cluster. The symbol turns green, as does a display on the rim of the steering wheel, during activation and changes to blue during driver-assisted lane-changes.
Cadillac bills Super Cruise as the industry’s first true hands-free driving technology for the highway. The addition of the word “true” in that phrase is based on two advanced technology systems that go beyond Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist.
It’s revolutionary technology, but not ground breaking, as Tesla has its Autopilot system, Nissan uses ProPilot Assist, and Mercedes-Benz keeps improving on its Active Distance Assist Distronic, to name a few.
Cadillac separates itself from the others through a Driver Attention System and high-definition 3D LiDAR mapping data (which has mapped all 336,000 kilometres of highway in the United States and Canada, with the addition of GPS real-time corrections).
The combination of technologies allows the CT6 to be aware of not only road elevations and curvatures, the traffic and obstacles surrounding the entire car, up to 2.4 km ahead), but also what you’re doing behind the wheel, thanks to an infrared camera situated on top of the steering column that focuses on your eye movements.
It demands your undivided attention
To put it simply, the Driver Attention System acts like a jealous significant other, needy kid, or if you’re more skeptical, like Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984 — planning on having a conversation with your spouse in the passenger seat? It will send out a flash from the steering wheel. Take your phone out to text or turn to look at the kids in the rear seat and that same flash occurs. A seat vibration follows, if you don’t heed the first call to attention. In a nutshell, it encourages uninterrupted semi-autonomous driving, but you better be paying attention.
During my 200-km stint on the highways surrounding Quebec City, I was super cruising for the most part at a set speed of 105 km/h. There were only a few instances of system disengagement, when faced with construction or lane change markings that weren’t clear. And thankfully in those brief moments, there were visual warnings combined with seat vibration and pulses to jolt me out of my Zen-state.
The most surprising aspect of the drive was that not much happened. It was smooth sailing without interruption as my hands stayed off the wheel and at times hovered over its sides in anticipation, on my legs, my seat, the radio. It was all a little weird. As the vehicle closed in on traffic around Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport, the CT6 once again did all the work, braking at a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to finish the braking job under 20 km/h. One can only trust a car so much.
Is it all jujubes and gummy drops?
It all seems as surreal as a scene out of Total Recall, except that it’s on the road today. Taking your hands off the wheel and foot off the accelerator appear to be contradictory to the “safety is paramount” philosophy instilled in a driver’s head from the first driver’s education class to constant federal and provincial regulations and warnings. But that’s what makes technology so special: it has the potential to create a safer environment away from human error. And Cadillac is putting its trust and confidence in its technology that feature a redundancy of cameras and safety gadgets.
Also of note is that if the driver is unresponsive, the technology will take over if several visual, audio and physical warnings go unanswered, eventually bringing the vehicle to a safe and complete stop and notifying OnStar of the specific location for emergency services to attend the scene, if necessary.
What is it all for?
Cadillac says it’s to make customers to feel relaxed and full of energy, while enjoying a luxurious experience. Cynically, it probably has more to do with winning a technology race against its fellow automakers and tech companies.
Personally, I felt pretty tired upon arrival at the airport, but that had a lot to do with the gloomy conditions and trying to stay alert if the system malfunctions. With time, I’m sure the driver will get more comfortable with the system, but let’s hope not too comfortable as the key is staying alert at all times. Yet, Super Cruise almost opens the up the door for the driver to check phone screens and send a few texts while driving.
For now, the technology doesn’t come cheap and is not available on lower CT6 trims. It does come standard on the CT6 Platinum (starting at $96,195) and costs $5,750 extra on its Premium Luxury third-tier trim (starting at $73,975). That might change soon, as Super Cruise is expanding to all Cadillac vehicles, as well as other General Motors’ products by 2020.
Semi-autonomous technology like Super Cruise is a great innovation and demonstrates great potential to improve vehicle-to-vehicle safety, therefore reducing injuries and fatalities, but it’s unclear today whether consumers are ready for this change. But who can say if minds will change by 2020?