Super Cruise, General Motors’ hands-free advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), will soon be available on many more roads in North America. GM announced today that, later this year, the ADAS system will be able to operate on 400,000 miles of roads, including undivided highways — which would essentially double Super Cruise’s current coverage in the US and Canada.
It represents a significant expansion of Super Cruise’s capabilities at a time when U.S. regulators are taking a closer look at driver-assistance features and safety advocates are calling for more transparency, citing research This shows how new technology can inadvertently create security risks.
Super Cruise, launched in 2017 with the Cadillac CT6, uses information from in-car cameras and radar sensors, GPS data and lidar mapping data collected by the company to enable hands-free driving and, in some cases, automatic lane changes. It combines this feature with a driver monitoring system that uses an infrared camera to make sure the driver is paying attention to the road in case Super Cruise needs to hand control back to the driver.
Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot, which can be activated on almost any highway or road as long as the system detects visible lane markers, drivers can currently use Super Cruise only on divided highways that GM has mapped and approved for laser use. Until now, this included just 200,000 miles of limited-access highways with concrete barriers separating opposing lanes of traffic.
However, starting later this year, drivers of vehicles such as the Chevy Silverado, GMC Hummer EV or Cadillac Lyriq will be able to use Super Cruise on undivided state and federal highways, sometimes called routes—main roads that connect smaller towns and cities. This includes the famous US Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs along the California coastline. the Overseas Highway, which connects Miami to the Florida Keys. and the Trans-Canada Highway, which crosses the country from east to west.
“Super Cruise really helps redefine vehicle ownership and is really part of our broader drive toward autonomy at General Motors,” Mario Maiorana, chief engineer of Super Cruise, said in a briefing with reporters.
For new GM vehicles built with the automaker’s “VIP electric architecture,” the extension will be available later this year and delivered at no extra charge via an over-the-air software update. Vehicles not built with the VIP electric architecture, which include the Cadillac CT6 and XT6 and the Chevy Bolt EUV, will have to wait a little longer. GM plans to have Super Cruise available on 22 models by the end of 2023.
On a parallel track, the Super Cruise expansion is a step toward the much more ambitious Ultra Cruise, which GM said will cover “95%” of driving duties and will debut in a handful of premium vehicles starting with in 2023. (GM has said the two systems will “co-exist,” with Super Cruise available in more “mainstream” vehicles, while Ultra Cruise will be reserved for the automaker’s luxury models.)
However, there are still many driving tasks that Super Cruise will not be able to handle. The system does not interface with the vehicle’s navigation system in a way that allows drivers to enter a destination and have the car make all the necessary turns and lane changes.
In addition, Super Cruise cannot handle traffic signals and stop signs, meaning the system will alert the driver when an intersection is 350 meters away (or 500 meters for non-VIP vehicles) so that he can take control of the vehicle. And Super Cruise won’t allow automatic lane change on two-lane highways. In other words, it will not cross either broken yellow or solid yellow lane markings.
One that will be able to handle driving on a wider complex section of road types. For example, some sections of the Pacific Coast Highway are extremely curvy with only minimal space between opposing lanes of traffic. According to GM, the system’s use of high-definition maps of these roads will allow it to tackle each turn with safety and confidence.
“With a high-definition map generated by LIDAR, we can see beyond what the vehicle’s sensors can,” said David Craig, GM’s head of maps. “So we know the curve of the road coming, we know the speed we need to be able to navigate that curve, and we have speed control along.”
Super Cruise is simply a Level 2 system, based on the six levels of vehicle autonomy as defined by SAE International and federal regulators. With Level 2, the human driver must watch the road and be ready to take control. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now requires automakers to provide data on crashes that occur with these Level 2 systems activated.
Super Cruise options for about $2,200 on the Chevy Bolt EUV, but prices vary by model. GM doesn’t plan to raise its prices for the system — but the automaker has expressed a desire to sell more features as monthly subscriptions as opposed to a one-time fee. (Tesla is selling its Level 2 “Full Self Driving” beta system as a $199 per month subscription or $12,000 up front.)
ADAS is becoming much more common in vehicles, with a variety of models at all different price points offering features like adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, pedestrian alerts and lane keeping. While still Level 2, Super Cruise is more advanced, allowing drivers to take their hands completely off the wheel. And researchers are studying what happens to a driver’s attention when they are not in full control of the vehicle’s functions, but are still expected to remain fully engaged in driving.
Maiorana called the driver monitoring system “the linchpin” of the Super Cruise’s approach to safety, but acknowledged that it was mostly a convenience feature as opposed to one designed to enhance driving safety.
“The benefit you get is that the Super Cruise system itself handles the simple part of driving: the steering, the deceleration, the braking,” he said. “I find that when I drive Super Cruise, I’m careful, I’m watching the road, yet – and I’m no neuroscientist by any means – I arrive at my destination feeling much more relaxed.”