Though it’s not yet heavily advertised, GM’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system has been making waves in the automotive and cutting-edge tech communities. While Tesla’s Autopilot has been the poster child of semi-autonomous driving systems, GM has quietly made its system one of the most advanced technology suites in the industry. It’s important to remember that even these highly-developed systems are still only at Level 2 of the six different levels autonomous vehicles.
What Is GM Super Cruise?
GM Super Cruise is a semi-autonomous driving system that is currently the only one available with true hands-free driving (meaning that the driver is not required to “check-in” periodically by tapping the steering wheel). Presently only available on Cadillac models, it uses a programmed network of compatible highways to provide one of the most technologically-advanced experiences of its kind. In essence, it is perhaps the closest thing that we have to a true self-driving car, even though it still has a long, long way to go.
A green light indicates that the system is working normally, while a red light indicates that driver attention is needed (a blue light will show if the driver takes manual control but the system is still "ready").
What Does GM Super Cruise Do and How Does It Work?
Super Cruise uses LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) mapping, in-vehicle cameras, radar sensors, and GPS to safely navigate the vehicle during highway travel. LiDAR is similar to radar in terms of operation but uses shorter wavelength light waves instead of longer wavelength radio waves. The use of LiDAR differs from Subaru’s EyeSight system, which only uses cameras, and Tesla’s Autopilot, which uses only cameras and radar. Another competitor system, Ford’s Co-Pilot360 Assist, also opts to use LiDAR. There is debate in the industry as to whether or not LiDAR is superior to radar or even necessary; although the two systems work to obtain very similar data, the LiDAR emits a laser instead of a sound wave. This can be used to generate a more precise, 3D image of obstacles in front of the car.
On the other hand, LiDAR is more expensive and cannot “see” as far as traditional radar. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, it’s hard to argue against Cadillac including both in their Super Cruise system.
GM Super Cruise Capabilities
- Keep the car centered in the lane by automatically steering
- Maintain constant speed using adaptive cruise control, adjusting speed as necessary due to vehicle in front
- Use forward collision system to stop in an emergency
- Monitor driver attentiveness, using sounds and vibrations to warn if more attention is needed
- Use infrared cameras to monitor the driver’s face and eyes, disengaging the system if the driver is not attentive (ultimately slowing and stopping the vehicle if no action is taken)
Though some may not like the limitation of being restricted to certain predetermined highways (unlike Tesla’s Autopilot), others have praised the safety implications of only using designated roads.
GM Super Cruise vs Tesla AutoPilot
There are some differences between Super Cruise and Tesla’s Autopilot. Although the true hands-free operation gives Cadillac’s Super Cruise a leg-up, there are some features that are only found with the Tesla. Super Cruise will not currently change lanes for you, which a Tesla will do if you use your turn signal while in Autopilot mode. However, Cadillac has announced that automatic lane change will launch for 2021 models. Still, Tesla’s system boasts the ability to suggest a lane change if it sees a more optimal route.
The true hands-free operation of Super Cruise is something that is currently unmatched in the market.
Additionally, Tesla’s Autopilot can be engaged on any road at any time. Super Cruise can only be used on eligible highways which have been manually added by GM development. Each of these highways is divided and typically offers long, straight roadways. This is contrasted with Tesla’s Autosteer+, which allows the vehicle to navigate much tighter curves than the Super Cruise system. Tesla also recently released its Smart Summon feature that allows the car to automatically drive itself to the driver in a parking lot or driveway.
Despite all of these relative advantages, there is one thing that Super Cruise has that Tesla’s Autopilot does not: Truly hands-free driving. Because of Cadillac’s driver monitoring system, there’s no need to tap the steering wheel to let the car know that you’re still paying attention. Limiting the use of Super Cruise to pre-selected highways is another method that GM uses to ensure safe hands-free driving.
Where Can You Use Super Cruise?
Right now, one of the primary disadvantages to Super Cruise versus its competitors is that it is limited to certain divided highways that have been added to the system by GM/Cadillac. At time of writing, this is limited to highways and freeways that are mostly to the east of the Mississippi River, but there are over 200,000 total miles of compatible highways spanning the United States and small parts of Canada. Lane markings still must be clearly visible and the driver must maintain alertness for the system to continue operation.
GM has added more than 200,000 miles of eligible divided highways that can be driven with Super Cruise engaged.
Which Vehicles Offer Super Cruise?
Currently, there is only one vehicle that offers Super Cruise: The Cadillac CT6. Super Cruise was launched on the 2018 model year vehicle. Although it’s not surprising that their flagship sedan has the technology, it’s a bit surprising that the system has yet to make it to their SUV lineup, such as the Escalade. Super Cruise will also be rolling out on the new, smaller CT5 sedan as well. Reception from drivers and media outlets have been very positive for the most part. While it doesn’t offer all of the features of Tesla, some critics prefer the more safety-oriented approach of Super Cruise. Given the praise, it could be argued that Cadillac has been too slow with the expansion to other vehicles, especially new models like the XT6.
However, GM plans to launch four new models with Super Cruise from 2020-2021; it’s safe to assume, for now, that they will probably all be Cadillacs. It’s exciting to see this technology rolled out as the company focuses efforts on semi-autonomous and autonomous driving. But it begs the question: When will GM offer Super Cruise on models within their other brands? Will we soon see Chevy, GMC, and Buick using the technology?
It’s too early to tell at this point, but we hope that a few more years will see GM offering Super Cruise in everything from their Chevy Silverado to their Buick crossovers. In an industry where more and more manufacturers are introducing this technology, GM can use its advanced software as a major competitive advantage.
Update January 28, 2020 - Cadillac Expands Super Cruise to Escalade, CT4, CT5
As expected, Cadillac has announced the expansion of Super Cruise to more models in its current line-up. Vehicles receiving the semi-autonomous driving suite will be the Escalade flagship SUV, as well as the CT4 and CT5 sedans. These changes will show up in the 2021 model year and will not be retroactive for existing models.
Cadillac has also stated that automatic lane-change will be added as well. This important feature will allow them to compete with Tesla’s Autopilot. It allows drivers to change lanes simply by using their turn signal indicator. Rear-facing sensors will determine when it is safe to do so. The computer will show a message saying that it’s "looking for an opening." If it finds one, it will say it’s "changing lanes." From there, the computer will safely guide the vehicle into the chosen lane.
It’s unsurprising that Cadillac announced this expansion when they did. The only model that currently uses Super Cruise, the CT6, is being discontinued. What remains to be seen is when the software will be rolled out to their other crossovers, such as the new XT4 and XT6.
Update February 6, 2020 – GM Expanding Super Cruise to 22 Vehicles By 2023
GM President Mark Reuss announced at the company's investor conference that Super Cruise would expand to 22 vehicles by 2023. Pickup trucks and SUVs are among those to receive the semi-autonomous driving technology. While no specific models were named, this means Super Cruise is going to expand to at least two other GM brands. The technology suite will be available on at least one non-Cadillac brand by 2021.
The confirmation of Super Cruise for pickup trucks means Chevy and GMC are almost certain to get the system. But it wouldn’t surprise us to see it on Buick models as well. The expansion also makes the technology available on vehicles more affordable than Cadillacs. This massive rollout will make the system accessible to a wider consumer base and give GM an edge against competitors.
What’s Next for Super Cruise?
GM engineers have stated that this program is closely tied with self-driving automobile research, even though we’re still years away from fully autonomous vehicles. Initial optimism about the future of self-driving cars has been tempered by the limits of software and hardware in real-world conditions. Companies are certainly still striving towards the goal of full autonomy, but semi-autonomous vehicles remain both an important stop-gap and stepping stone in the process.
Car buyers want the latest technology, whether that’s automatic safety systems or adaptive cruise control. Cadillac still has an advantage with its Super Cruise offering. It’s expected to be rolled out to other GM brands; the question is whether or not this will happen in time to compete against other less expensive competitors in the market.
Ford’s newest iteration of their Co-Pilot360 Assist suite, debuting with the upcoming Mustang Mach-E, is a worthy challenger to Cadillac’s current tech. It is also truly hands-free and is sure to trickle down to Ford’s less expensive models in the near future.
Perhaps in contrast to the boisterous and sometimes controversial claims surrounding Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s rollout of Super Cruise has been intentionally conservative and deliberate. While this might mean that the overall process is slower, they’ve separated their technology as being a cut above the rest. Until the Mustang Mach-E is released or another competitor ramps up their system, Cadillac boasts the only hands-free option on the market. Time will tell how quickly Super Cruise is adopted to other GM vehicles, but consumer demand for semi-autonomous systems will certainly play a massive part in the next decade of car design.
Sources: Cadillac | The Verge | Consumer Reports | The Drive | Automotive News
Image Credit: Cadillac