I’m in the passenger seat of a 2021 Cadillac Escalade with Super Cruise chief engineer Mario Maiorana behind the wheel as he eases the SUV onto the Detroit area’s notorious Interstate 696. It’s the mostly sunken east-west freeway where the 70 miles per hour speed limit signs are superfluous as vehicles routinely race across the metro area’s north side at speeds closer to a takeoff roll. It’s just the perfect environment in which to demonstrate for me a feature of Cadillac’s enhanced version of its Super Cruise advanced driver assist system called lane change on demand.
That’s right. Amid the speeding cars, construction vehicles, semi-trailers and garbage trucks Maiorana notes my whitening face and tightening grip on the door handle and says the giant SUV will figure it all out on its own and safely move us from the center to right-hand lane.
He taps the turn signal telling the system his desire to move to the right. Then, with the right lane lined with cars and trucks and no gap in sight, Maiorana takes his hands off the wheel and I wait for calamity. It never happens. In fact, the vehicle seems to create its own gap and seamlessly and safely makes the move. I ask Mario to explain the miracle.
“Now when it’s about to make the lane change it’ll start looking at the road geometry as well as the surrounding environment,” he explained. “All these sensors we talked about (cameras, radar, LiDar) determine what is the situation, are there vehicles coming up quickly, is there an opening there? When it deems them acceptable and it’s safe to make the move it’ll give an indication to the driver the lane change is occurring, the vehicle will automatically change lanes.”
If the situation just seems hopeless after anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, the system will actually indicate to the driver—can’t do it. It’s up to you.
How does it know? There is a long-range radar in the center of the vehicle and two short-range radars on either side. There’s also a 360-degree camera system with a camera under each side mirror and one in the rear.
“Those cameras give the whole system a 360-degree view. That information is used to see lane lines,” said Maiorana.
Lane change on demand is the marquee feature of this latest version of Super Cruise, which Cadillac introduced in 2017. The advanced driver assist system, or ADAS, gives drivers the option to cruise hands-free over about 210,000 miles of roads in the U.S. and Canada. Maiorana says high-definition maps of those roads generated by LiDar sensors, in concert with in-vehicle GPS provides location accuracy of less than two meters.
A series of lights mounted on the top arc of the steering wheel lets a driver know the state of Super Cruise. Green means it’s engaged and in control of the vehicle. A blue light means the driver is back in control and a red light tells the driver to take over. The blue light comes especially into play with the enhanced version’s next improvement.
As Maiorana explains, in the older version the vehicle had to be in the center of the driving lane before Super Cruise would work. The enhanced version offers drivers an assist.
“With the new enabling criteria..if you’re slightly off-center in the lane and you hit the engage button it will engage, but enter the blue state, you’re in control,” he said. “So it’s saying ‘hey, the system is on, but you’re in control because you’re not centered .’ So you’ll hit it, it’ll go blue, and you just steer back to the middle, then it goes green and you can let go of the wheel. We think it’s a much more natural and intuitive way to engage.”
If the driver is truly not engaged or paying attention to the road, Super Cruise doesn’t fool around. A rear-facing camera along with some IR emitters mounted on the cowl of the car are continuously watching the driver, making sure his or her eyes are facing forward. After about five seconds of detected inattention, the green light on the steering wheel will start flashing. If that’s ignored the light starts flashing red and hand control back to the driver while ringing chimes and triggering a haptic vibration in the seat.
Overall, Maiorana believes enhanced Super Cruise enhances the entire driving experience, benefiting from improved software and control system opining, “ “I believe this enhanced system feels and drives much more natural to how you would drive it. I find it’s much smoother on the turns and handles the turns much better.”
Enhanced Super Cruise is available on 2021 Cadillac Escalade, CT4 and CT5 but will be offered on 22 products before calendar year 2023, including the Chevrolet Bolt EV and eventually Chevrolet and GMC full-size pickup trucks and SUVs, according to Maiorana who said ultimately, “The goal is Super Cruise on more vehicles, driving on more roads.”