Well, now that it’s out now, it’s no longer a secret. In order for Cadillac to really be able to introduce the industry’s first truly hands-free self-driving system to the public, the car company wanted to be sure it had all the data on the US highway system before it launched. And yes, they really got all of it. To do this, Cadillac didn’t deploy a fleet of camera-mounted vehicles to record footage of the nation’s highways, like Google does for Street View. It also did not rely on “fleet learning” like what Tesla does, in which many vehicles operating on the same software work together to build a more detailed map.
Instead, Cadillac used vehicles equipped with high-powered LIDAR sensors to build a highly detailed map of the US highway system. According to Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Cadillac’s Super Cruise, in an interview at the New York International Auto Show this week, “We went out and mapped 160,000 miles of America’s interstate highways. We have mapped them within five centimeters of accuracy. So that’s pretty impressive. This is the first use of a LIDAR map. You’re going to see more of that in our autonomous vehicles and this is the first application. The car can see farther than the sensors on the car with the map.
With the map, we’re able to see about 2,500 meters ahead. So if we have a sharp curve, we can anticipate that, decelerate the car in order to maintain a g-level that we tune to take the curve.” The new technology will be rolled out in Cadillac’s flagship CT6 sedan later this fall. Car buyers can expect to shell out $66,290 and $85,290 for the platinum models. But the inclusion of the LIDAR maps is what will set Super Cruise and Cadillac apart from its competitors.
Tesla recommends its drivers only use the semi-autonomous Autopilot system while driving on the highways, but technically the electric car company can’t do anything to enforce that. Cadillac has more control over how its customers use Super Cruise because of the mapping data. Super Cruise is restricted to only divided, limited-access highways with defined ‘on-’ and ‘off-ramps.’
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In other words, Cadillac cars with the new technology cannot go into self-driving mode inside cities and residential communities. Cadillac wanted to restrict its hands-free self-driving feature to the highway only because, in all honesty, it was a lot easier. No intersections, no pedestrians, no bicyclists because all you have are long stretches of open, though sometimes congested, highway. While companies like Waymo-Google and Uber have self-driving cars deployed in dense, urban areas, and are working toward developing Level 5, fully autonomous cars that don’t require any human intervention, Super Cruise is just a Level 2 system. So, drivers still need to keep their eyes on the road and stay engaged with the vehicle. They may be able to take their hands off the steering wheel and feet off the pedal, but if they turn their eyes away for more than 30 seconds, the car will know because of an infrared camera attached to the top of the steering column.