The Cadillac SuperCruise Is a Sneak Peek at Our Autonomous Future

Look, Ma: No hands.

October 6, 2017 9:00 am

Driving for an hour without using your hands or feet is now a thing.

Source: I recently did just that.

Before you get your seatbelt in a twist about all the Tesla Autopilot mishaps, let’s take a few steps back.

Because while Tesla — in a Jurassic Parkian display of vainglory — is fine rolling out full Autopilot in beta, Cadillac has thankfully taken a more conservative approach. Now available as an option on all new-generation CT6 sedans, Cadillac’s proprietary “SuperCruise” is a semi-autonomous drive system. A self-driving car with training wheels, if you will.

We recently had the chance to take it for a more-than-lengthy spin and lived to tell the tale.

Here’s the deal.

So how’s it work?
Firstly, the conditions have to be right. For SuperCruise to engage, the following must happen:

  • One must be on a limited-access freeway
  • Teen Driver mode cannot be active
  • The camera and radar systems must not be obstructed or damaged
  • And lane markings must be clearly visible

Once all conditions are met, the SuperCruise symbol will illuminate in white. If the Adaptive Cruise Control is set, one can simply push the SuperCruise button to turn the light green and engage the system.

So, can I take a nap now?
No. You wish. Sensors and cameras on the steering wheel are there to make certain the driver pays attention. So, yes, you can take your hands off the wheel and your feet off the pedals and chill — but you can’t take your eyes off the road for much more than about 10 seconds without glancing up. If the system sees that you’re not paying attention and/or mashing on your smartphone, it will begin to flash, then flash red, then beep, then shake … before finally moving to an auditory warning telling you to wake the f*ck up. In the case that something serious has happened — like a heart attack — and the driver doesn’t respond, the last failsafe is SuperCruise bringing the vehicle to a stop and alerting OnStar.

SuperCruise (5 images)

How’s it feel?
It definitely feels foreign at first. The SuperCruise works up to 85 mph and will slow itself down and speed up according to traffic patterns. Your inclination to grab the wheel at first will be severe. But like a sort of trust-fall-on-four-wheels, you learn to let it do its thing. After that, it’s more about knowing what to do with yourself.

In an effort to test out possible use cases, I ate a salad while driving rather than the typical sandwich. I played with a fidget spinner and at one point played with two at once, which I think is difficult even when one is not driving and do not recommend it in the least. I also braided my hair. I texted. I doubt this is legal, nor advised. But SuperCruise was pretty quick to bite me in the ass if I looked down for too long.

You can’t write a novel or watch a movie. Or not yet, anyway.

I heard a lot of my colleagues say that it was fantastic for fatigue reduction. Many touted that at the end of the drive, they felt like they had driven for just three hours, not the 1,000 it felt like to me. I found that sitting sans engagement made me want to take a snooze. The seat warmer was on, the massagers were going full strength, and I was quickly reaching for a second cup o’ joe.

How’d the hell they’d do it?
They put in the miles. Cadillac and GM used a laser-radar (Lidar) system and traversed 130,000 miles of highway. And now the car remembers all those highways. So you don’t get to decide whether you’re in a place to turn SuperCruise on: the system recognizes whether you’re on a limited-access highway and makes that decision for you. And even if a limited-access highway doesn’t seem up to par — say, because the road is under construction — the SuperCruise will take note and prohibit activation. According to Cadillac, the Lidar system will be updated quarterly going forward.

Is it cool?
Initially, it put me in a tough spot, because I love the CT6. I mean, I really love it. The driving it part, specifically. So cool: Yes. Necessary: Eh.

That was until I hit stop-and-go-traffic and my tune changed. The SuperCruise was so adaptive and responsive. This meant that rather than hitting the brake and speeding up every three seconds, I could sit back and work on some breathing exercises to manage my blossoming road rage.

Anything else?
It should be noted that the SuperCruise has what I like to call anti-pirate technology. That is, if you cover one eye, it alerts you to pay attention. It’s likely a failsafe to keep one from falling asleep, but no eye patches allowed. Sorry, matey.

And then there’s the best part of driving with SuperCruise: messing with other people in traffic. Onlookers’ expressions ranged from a hat tip, to stone-cold curiosity, to sheer terror.

At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle in driving (or not driving) is going to be battling your own anxiety. The second obstacle is going to be resisting the temptation to do more than you are allowed. Obstacle three? That $82k price tag.

It’s still a Caddy, after all.

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