You’ll soon be able to drive ‘the Mother Road’ hands-free, at least if your vehicle is equipped with General Motors’ Super Cruise system.
Since Super Cruise made its debut in 2017, GM has steadily expanded the number of miles of U.S. and Canadian roadways on which it can operate, while adding the technology to more vehicles. The latest update, announced today, will double the system’s range to more than 400,000 miles.
And it will, for the first time, allow motorists to travel hands-free on many two-lane roads, including Route 66, California’s Pacific Coast Highway, and the Trans-Canada Highway. Until now, Super Cruise would only activate on limited-access divided roadways.
“This is a significant step in our journey” toward the development of autonomous vehicle technology, said Mario Maiorana, the chief engineer on the Super Cruise program, during a media background briefing.
Technically, Super Cruise is a “driver assist,” rather than an autonomous vehicle, system. But it has received significant praise from automotive reviewers, and the influential Consumer Reports has rated it above Tesla’s similar Autopilot system on several occasions.
The GM technology uses a “fusion” of camera, radar, and other sensors to keep track of what’s going on around a vehicle equipped with Super Cruise. It also relies on maps produced by Lidar, a high-definition laser technology accurate down to within a couple of inches.
As GM has continued development, it has both expanded the number of miles of roadway on which Super Cruise can be used while adding more features. When the technology debuted 5 years ago, it was limited to 100,000 miles of Interstate highways. In 2019, that range was doubled, with some other divided highways added to the mix.
Adding More Features & Functionality
Since then, updates have allowed vehicles with Super Cruise to tow trailers and even execute a pass automatically. But this marks the first time the system will permit motorists to activate the system on Lidar-mapped non-divided roads.
This will allow Super Cruise to be used in significantly more rural parts of mid-America and Canada, said mapping specialist David Craig, putting it within reach of millions more motorists across North America.
As before, Super Cruise will automatically warn drivers to take control when it approaches intersections marked by stop signs or traffic lights. It will now deactivate when coming into towns, Maiorana noted. He also noted that on non-divided roads, Super Cruise’s auto-pass function will be disabled.
Keeping an Eye on the Driver
Where the system can operate, a driver can take their hands off the steering wheel — though they must still pay attention to what’s happening on the road. Otherwise, a monitoring system built into the wheel will deactivate Super Cruise.
Whenever Super Cruise requires the driver to take control, it flashes a warning or sounds an alert. If the driver doesn’t respond, the vehicle will then slow to a stop and notify emergency responders, said Maiorana.
“Driver attention is key,” he explained. “It’s the lynchpin of safety for our system.”
Super Cruise Cost & Availability
Originally introduced on the old Cadillac CT6 sedan, GM has steadily expanded the lineup of vehicles offering the technology. It will be on 22 different models sold in the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2023.
Super Cruise currently costs $2,500 to install, though other options may need to be added depending upon the vehicle trim package. The first 3 years are included in the purchase price, and it then costs another $25 a month to renew the subscription.
GM plans to introduce an even more advanced Ultra Cruise system sometime in 2023. Using onboard Lidar, the automaker says it will be able to operate hands-free on 95% of U.S. and Canadian roads.
The Super Cruise upgrade will initially become available on new 2023 models as they start rolling out. Existing GM products with Super Cruise will get over-the-air upgrades by the fourth quarter of this year.
GM isn’t the only automaker offering driver assistance technology. Some, like Nissan’s ProPilot, assist the driver in staying centered in their lane while maintaining speed to match the flow of traffic. Ford recently launched Blue Cruise, a system with similar features to Super Cruise, though it carries significantly fewer miles of roadway.
Mercedes-Benz just launched its Drive Pilot in Germany, a system that allows fully hands-free operation in traffic up to 37 mph. It expects to launch the technology in the U.S. later this year.
Tesla has promised to introduce a truly autonomous version of its Autopilot system this year, but that upgrade of its “Full Self-Driving” software has repeatedly been delayed. Currently, Autopilot still requires motorists to keep their hands on the wheel.