If you thought the Super Cruise auto-pilot technology bowing next year on the Cadillac CT6 large luxury sedan signals a future of fully autonomous driving for the luxury brand, think again.
“A fully autonomous car has a different market,” says Lyndon Lie, executive chief engineer-Cadillac CT6 at General Motors. “That is an urban, inner-city environment.”
Super Cruise, which GM says it delayed by nearly a year to iron out some integration and safety details, targets suburban highway commutes where some of the more tedious elements of driving can be taken off the driver’s shoulders but he remains fully engaged with the process.
“It is limited access, highway driving,” Lie tells WardsAuto in an interview.
Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen puts a finer point on Super Cruise, calling it “supervised driving.” Anything more would not be in the spirit of the Cadillac brand, he told a recent technology summit in Portugal.
“For us, driving is a very immersive experience,” de Nysschen said. “The notion of removing the driver from that is foreign to us. It’s not what Cadillac stands for. We are not into making transportation modules. We’ll leave that to someone else.”
GM also plans a Cadillac CT6 PHEV for next year.
Cadillac’s approach to automated driving suggests it is at arm’s length from GM’s team of autonomous-technology engineers and technicians, which include the newly acquired Cruise Automation group from San Francisco. That unit will focus on urban applications and likely involve the automaker’s Lyft and Maven ride-hailing and car-sharing services.
The addition of Super Cruise to the CT6 also confirms a slightly different approach to autonomy than some of GM’s rivals, most notably Ford. Ford intends to skip intermediate automated-driving technology such as Super Cruise and go straight for full autonomy, where the car does all the work and items such as the steering wheel, brake and accelerator are unnecessary.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” De Nysschen said. “It depends on where you stand on the development part. We see a very phased development into full autonomous capability.”
But that does not mean Super Cruise will not play a role in the development of fully autonomous vehicles at GM by the 2020-2021 time frame, Cadillac officials say. In fact, it is a fundamental building block of the technology because it addresses the primary issues of safety and integration.
That is the reason GM delayed its rollout, Lie says, giving up costly ground to competitors such as Mercedes-Benz already fielding a similar technology.
“There were certain scenarios where we said, ‘Hey we’ve got to rethink some of these multiple highway intersections, bridges, tunnels…all the difficult situations and put more attention to the details.’ We had to enhance it, make it safer.”
On the integration front, Super Cruise is a first step in defining how other GM vehicles will keep drivers alert and safely re-engage them in to the process when it becomes too complex for the machine.
For example, when radars, cameras and GPS map data on the CT6 determine it is safe to engage Super Cruise, the car will notify the driver. While in semi-autonomous mode, the driver will be permitted to remove his hands from the wheel, but sensors such as vision systems monitor attentiveness.
If the car determines it must exit Super Cruise and re-engage the driver, a green light bar will illuminate on the steering wheel and the head-up display. Should the driver fail to take over, the light bar and HUD will flash red, and the seat will vibrate along with an auditory alert.
“That should startle any driver (who) is not alert,” de Nysschen told the tech summit.
If the driver still does not take the wheel, the accelerator will be disabled and the car will coast safely to a standstill. A human adviser from GM’s OnStar service also would join the scenario, one de Nysschen says would avert a “disastrous result” even under normal conditions where the driver may have conked out.
“The goal for us is not to be first to market but to go to market with a system that is absolutely robust,” he says.
And one that does not take away from the visceral driving experience.
Lie points to a low-slung creamy white CT6 parked nearby, “How could you own this car and not drive it, know what I mean?”