Cadillac’s Super Cruise promises ‘true hands-free’ highway driving

 Aerial view of highway

As carmakers around the world develop automated driving technologies that will help them secure the ‘driverless dollar’, Cadillac this week announced its own new driver assistance feature.

The luxury car firm’s Super Cruise technology is a hands-free driver assistance system for highway driving that includes an escalating driver alert system.

The company described Super Cruise as “the industry’s first true hands-free driving technology for the highway” – inviting comparisons with Tesla’s Autopilot technology, which requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times.

Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen said: “Super Cruise is a more technologically advanced hands-free driving solution, which in terms of capability, integration and validation is uniquely focused on customer convenience and safety.”

Super Cruise is designed to operate specifically on divided, limited-access highways, giving drivers the opportunity for hands-free driving during both long-distance journeys and the daily commute.



“American drivers travel twice as many miles on urban and suburban highways as they do on rural roads,” said Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Cadillac Super Cruise. 

“Super Cruise allows hands-free driving and operates only within the environment where it has the most benefit. 

“While it is technically possible for the technology to drive hands-free on other kinds of streets and roads, we feel strongly that this targeted approach is the best to build consumer and regulatory confidence and enthusiasm for advanced mobility.” 

Super Cruise allows hands-free driving and operates only within the environment where it has the most benefit.
— Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Cadillac Super Cruise

The company says that Super Cruise is the first assisted driving technology to combine precision LiDAR map data with real-time cameras, sensors and GPS. 

While the camera and sensor data control the car’s basic driving systems – steering, braking and acceleration – the map data will govern system use, only enabling Super Cruise under appropriate conditions such as highway driving.

Escalating driver alert system

The technology also aims to address the risk of driver distraction. A study recently found that it can take as long as 25 seconds for a human driver to resume control from a driverless car.

While Super Cruise allows for hands-free operation, it incorporates a number of different measures to ensure the driver remains alert at all times.

“When we were developing Super Cruise we knew it was important to keep the driver engaged during operation,” said Walkup. “That’s why we’ve added a driver attention function, to insist on driver supervision.”

 A steering wheel light bar indicates the status of Super Cruise and will prompt the driver to return their attention to the road ahead if the system detects driver attention has turned away from the road too long. [image courtesy of cadillac]

A steering wheel light bar indicates the status of Super Cruise and will prompt the driver to return their attention to the road ahead if the system detects driver attention has turned away from the road too long. [image courtesy of cadillac]

The driver attention system uses a small, dedicated camera on top of the steering column and infrared lights to track the driver’s head position and determine where the driver is looking while Super Cruise is operating.

If the driver becomes distracted and turns their attention away from the road ahead, the system uses a series of escalating alerts to prompt them to focus. 

After an initial prompt to return their attention to the road, a steering wheel light bar will guide the driver to look at the road or take back control of the wheel.

If needed, additional alerts can include visual indicators in the instrument display, tactile alerts via the car’s seat and even audible alerts.

Should the driver still not respond, Cadillac says that its driver assistance technologies are able to bring the car to a controlled stop and, if necessary, use the vehicle’s built-in OnStar communications systems to alert emergency services.