Cadillac's Super Cruise provides a glimpse into the self-driving future today

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Cadillac Super Cruise

Cadillac Super Cruise

When I was a kid, "The Jetsons" promised me flying cars would be part of the future, and I would have a robot housekeeper. It’s the future, and I don’t have either of those things.

Now, automakers are promising self-driving cars are the next big thing, and they will be on the road very soon...supposedly.

Cadillac’s launching its Super Cruise driver assist system, and it’s as close to a self-driving car as you’ll get on the road today. To put the system to the test, I slid behind the wheel of a CT6 for two long days to drive from Cleveland to Chicago and Chicago to Nashville. That was a lot of time behind the wheel, literally, as I didn't need my hands on the steering wheel. The time was well spent, though, because it showed what the system’s capable of, and whether Cadillac’s delivered on its promise of hands-free driving.

What it is and what it isn't

Turn it on and Super Cruise will take the over steering, throttle, and braking duties while on the highway at speeds of up to 85 mph, whether in traffic or in the middle of nowhere. Let’s be clear that Super Cruise doesn’t make the Cadillac CT6 a self-driving car. It’s an advanced driver assist system that allows for hands-free driving under certain conditions, and that’s it.

To use the system, you must be driving on a divided, limited-access freeways with defined exit ramps and no cross traffic. It will not work on major interchanges with undefined exits, and you should not use it in construction zones.

There are five levels of self-driving capabilities when it comes to autonomous cars, and this is a Level 2 system, which means the car can execute both steering and the throttle, but the driver must monitor the driving environment and emergency maneuvers will be the driver's responsibility.

Why isn’t it a Level 3 system? Super Cruise still requires you to monitor the driving environment, and it can’t perform lane changes or maneuvers without you pausing the system and taking control. Rob Bolio, Cadillac’s vehicle performance manger, told me the car’s hardware is capable of autonomous lane changes, but the software currently isn't. This could be changed in the future via an over-the-air (OTA) update, though Bolio said Cadillac found its customers don’t feel lane changing capability is a priority.

Cadillac Super Cruise

Cadillac Super Cruise

The system adds quite a bit of hardware to the CT6. It has an advanced map module that stores all the mapped LiDAR data, a steering column-mounted camera to watch the driver, six steering wheel-mounted infra-red (IR) emitters that help light your face so the camera can see your eyes even through sunglasses, two Super Cruise modules that are the brains behind the system, a redundant steering system as a backup, object detection modules that read if there are hazards in the road, and a super capacitor that acts as a backup in case there’s a fault with the CT6's main 12-volt system. Those features are in addition to a windshield-mounted camera system, and short- and long-range radar that are already part of the CT6’s adaptive cruise control system; Super Cruise taps into both of those.

The map module has 160,000 miles of highway mapped out using high-definition LiDAR. That equates to every major highway and interstate in the U.S. and Canada. The map data is fed 25 meters at a time as the system is being used.

Oh boy, is this thing patented. General Motors has 310 patents supporting Super Cruise, and 146 of those patents directly relate to the system itself.

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