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Cadillac Super Cruise: Hands-free on the Freeway

The Cadillac Super Cruise system takes over some driving duties and brings us closer to the day when vehicles will be fully autonomous. For that to happen, certain technologies need to be in place, such as adaptive cruise control, active steering, cameras, various sensors and a lot of computing power. Super Cruise has all those things, plus a laser-based range detector: LIDaR, standing for light detection and ranging. Whereas radar uses radio waves, this system deploys highly focused light beams. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s science fact.

Hands Free, Eyes Busy

Here’s how it all works. Super Cruise is currently available only in the 2018 Cadillac CT6 large luxury sedan. We’ll go into pricing a bit later. In the meantime, imagine being in the wonderfully comfortable driver’s seat of a CT6.

Get onto a freeway, choose a lane and stick to it. A steering wheel symbol in the instrument cluster lights up when the system is ready to engage. Press the relevant button on the actual steering wheel. There’s a noticeable action as Super Cruise engages, but it’s not in the least bit clunky. A strip of LED lighting set into the top section of the steering wheel (a nice wood and leather item) goes green.

It’s at this point where a driver can release the wheel and take the right foot off the throttle pedal. Or, in other words, entrust the lives of everyone in the car to a computer, and surrender to a future governed by processors and actuators. Naturally, doing this for the first time involves a degree or three of apprehension.

Then something odd happens. After only a few miles of witnessing the system adjust cruise control speed according to traffic conditions and track along the lane even when the freeway curves in places, an element of trust comes into play. Hands and feet are no longer hovering an inch above the controls. The driver’s shoulders relax, and every occupant starts to appreciate their new silicon friend.

However, this is not the time for the driver to turn to passengers and tell them his or her life story. Nor should he or she pick up a smartphone and respond to a bunch of text messages. Because the LED strip will flash red, the driver’s seat cushion will vibrate and audible warnings will also chime in, all with the express intention of snapping the driver back to the most important task.

Although Super Cruise enables hands-free operation, it demands that a driver’s eyes are always on the road. A camera in the instrument cluster keeps an unblinking watch on behavior and sight lines. It’s not even fooled by sunglasses. React in time, and the system will eventually go back into green mode.

To change lanes, activate the turn signal and perform the maneuver. The system then shows blue lights to show it’s in standby mode. Fail to respond in time, though, and the system will lock itself out until the car has stopped, the ignition turned off and then turned back on again. It wouldn’t be surprising if the car could really fend for itself, but the laws of the land (which have yet to catch up with the march of technology) still apply. And if there’s an accident, the driver is always assumed to be in charge.

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

The other qualification to the Super Cruise is that it only works on freeways. In its memory banks is every interstate in the United States and Canada, because Cadillac and its tech partners have driven and mapped every inch of those roads. Once Super Cruise is activated, a high-resolution form of GPS kicks in that is accurate to 6.5 feet (bear in mind that 60 mph means traveling 88 feet a second), so the car knows where it is, while input from sensors that feed features like the adaptive cruise control (with automatic emergency braking) and blind spot monitoring add to the overall picture.

Long-Distance Relationship

So far, so theoretical. To make its case to buyers, the Super Cruise system must function out there in the messy world. Fortunately, freeway driving isn’t as messy as the cut and thrust of city driving, but Cadillac was still ambitious. The company decided to take a troop of CT6 sedans on a cross-country jaunt, going the long way from New York City to Los Angeles via Chicago, Memphis and Dallas.

Autotrader was invited to take part in the final section, an 850-mile stretch from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Santa Monica, California.

Throughout the whole trip, the only problems the system threw up were a few glitches. For instance, on one area of freeway, there were no road markings, so the system didn’t want to engage. Moving into the car pool lane, with painted lines on each side, brought Super Cruise back up and running. And bright, low sunlight could affect the camera part of the system.

Another thing that took some getting used to is how the steering deals with curves. Rather than one continuous arc, the wheel will turn a little then go straight for a short distance, repeating these actions until the road straightens out. We have a feeling this is a characteristic that will be fine-tuned as the system is improved and enhanced. But as it is, it still made us want to grab the wheel every now and then.

Robot For Sale

Cadillac Super Cruise is, as the company states, the first hands-free technology for freeway driving available to the public. The next hurdle is to see how much of the motoring public will embrace it. Which means buying a Cadillac CT6. In the Premium Luxury trim, starting at $67,285, Super Cruise is part of an options bundle that includes 20-inch alloy wheels, night vision and an adaptive suspension — all for $5,000. Go for the top Platinum trim, from $86,285, and that package is standard. An OnStar subscription is necessary, but these prices include three years’ worth.

There are similar systems from other manufacturers, but they usually require a hand on the wheel every 10 seconds or so. With Super Cruise, many miles can zip past without having to take over. And if anyone was wondering, should a driver be incapable of obeying the system’s request to intervene (perhaps because of a medical crisis), then the car will activate the flashing hazard lights and come to a gradual stop within the lane. The OnStar system will also alert the emergency services.

There’s not enough room to go into a full review of the 2018 Cadillac CT6 here, but it’s an excellent, well-rounded car with so much more going for it than just the latest suite of gadgetry. That said, anyone facing regular long road trips and/or demanding commutes should give Super Cruise some serious consideration, since the system will definitely lighten the load, despite having to keep alert. After our test drive, which took two days, our fatigue levels were pleasantly low.

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