October 4th, 2017 by

Autonomous, self-driving cars are coming to American roads, and they may be arriving sooner than a lot of people think. On the web site of GeoDigital, a GM-owned company that creates real-time 3D maps of U.S. highways, it’s predicted that “people born in 2016 may never have to learn to drive.”

Today, however, fully autonomous vehicles – those capable of making all the crucial decisions a human driver makes — remain a goal, not a reality. But, Cadillac is pushing the industry hard, and its latest self-driving innovation, Super Cruise – represents a major advance in the state of art for self-driving.

Six Levels of Driving Automation

The Society of Automotive Engineers has proposed – and the U.S. Department of Transportation has accepted — a six-level scale of autonomous car development. Let’s look at this scale to get a better idea of where self-driving technology is today and where it may be tomorrow:

Level 0: No Driving automation. From the first automobile until very recently, all cars on American roads were Level 0, meaning that they are under the sole control of a human operator.

Level 1: Driver Assistance. Although a human driver continues to control the car’s operation, individual functions, for example, steering or speed control, may be under automatic control. Adaptive Cruise Control is a Level 1 feature available on many production cars today.

Level 2: Partial Driving Automation. Here, an automated system controls both steering and speed, with the human driver controlling all other car functions.

Level 3: Conditional Driving Automation. All driving tasks are automated, but the human driver must still be ready to resume manual control of the car if the situation warrants.

Level 4: High Driving Automation. The automated system controls all driving tasks with no expectation that the human driver must ever intervene. Human control may, however, still be required if bad weather or unusual road conditions arise.

Level 5: Full Driving Automation. All driving tasks – on all roads, and under all weather conditions – are under automated control.

Cadillac’s Self-Driving Breakthrough

In April of 2017, Cadillac announced Super Cruise, a Level 2 (partial automation) system using two advanced technologies which, when combined, represent the state of the art in autonomous driving. They are:

1. An integrated, proprietary, hyper-accurate, nationwide digital highway map. Super Cruise taps into a precise 3D digital map – developed by GM subsidiary GeoDigital — of all the limited access highways in the United States (a “limited access” highway is defined as one with on-ramps and off-ramps). Super Cruise will only be active on these roads, a deliberate decision by GM to avoid the problem of intersections (which, until all cars on the road are self-driving, cannot safely be negotiated by automated systems), and unexpected hazards that may crop up on rural roads that are best left to a human driver to navigate around.

Software aboard the car pulls up the relevant features such road curvature, road trajectory (horizontal/vertical/slope), the lane markings, and roadside attributes. These critical spatial insights are dynamically served to the vehicle’s control system in readiness for steering, braking, speed and signaling commands. This approach provides the critical information more quickly and reliably than artificial processing alone – particularly when traveling at high speeds.

Information drawn from the 3D map is – along with GPS data – integrated with the real-time data provided by on-board cameras and sensors to be accurate to within 4 inches. The result is the most advanced, accurate, and reliable hands-free driving system available today.

2. Use of a driver-watching “attention” system. One thorny problem with less than fully automated (Level 4/5) cars is that drivers can allow their attention to drift from the road when the car’s automated systems are engaged. This is dangerous because drivers must always be prepared to take over if the automated system suffers a failure or an unanticipated emergency arises requiring manual intervention.

Cadillac’s Super Cruise solves this problem with a steering wheel-mounted camera aimed at the driver. Using images from this camera and infrared lights tracking the driver’s head position, Cadillac’s system uses an escalating system of alerts to make sure the driver keeps his/her attention on the road.

If the system detects the driver has turned attention away from the road ahead for too long, it will prompt the driver to return attention to the road ahead. If the driver does not immediately refocus on the road, Super Cruise will continue to safely steer until a further escalation of alerts prompts the driver to resume supervision. If the system determines continued inattentiveness, a steering wheel light bar guides the driver to look at the road or take back control of the wheel. Additional alerts can include visual indicators in the instrument cluster, tactile alerts in the Cadillac’s Safety Alert Seat and audible alerts, if necessary. In the limited event of an unresponsive driver, the Cadillac CT6 utilizes the full capability of onboard driver assistance technologies to bring the car to a controlled stop and contact OnStar to alert first responders, if necessary.

Cadillac Super Cruise was recently featured on The Today Show, where a CT6 with Super Cruise began a coast to coast trip to showcase the feature.

Super Cruise will be available as an option for selected models in Cadillac’s 2018 line-up, including the CT6 Luxury Sedan. If you’re interested in experiencing the future of autonomous driving – today – call us at 866-704-9225 or use this site’s online contact form to set up a test drive in a Cadillac equipped with Super Cruise.

Posted in Tech