Sunshine Can Sabotage Cadillac's Super Cruise; GM Reportedly Working On Fix

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
sunshine can sabotage cadillacs super cruise gm reportedly working on fix

Despite receiving high praise as one of the most advanced driving aids on the market, Cadillac’s Super Cruise isn’t perfect. Automotive writers frequently debate whether it’s superior to Tesla’s Autopilot, without reaching a consensus. Most experiences have shown Tesla to have the more hassle-free interface with Cadillac providing something that errs on the side of caution. Similarly capable, Super Cruise is more persnickety about where and when can use the system — not a terrible impulse, especially considering how all modern driving aids can be flummoxed by a little salt and snow.

However, one gripe we’ve repeatedly heard about Super Cruise was that the system sometimes didn’t make it clear why it isn’t operating. General Motors has identified the problem and says it plans to implement a fix, but it might only come with the next generation of the company’s semi-autonomous hardware.

While GM could tweak the software, it wouldn’t alleviate the problem. According to Automotive News, the core issue involves the infrared camera that’s mounted atop the steering wheel column and used for monitoring the driver (something Tesla’s system doesn’t have). The device tracks driver involvement and can deactivate Super Cruise whenever the on-board computer feels the pilot is getting too complacent. Apparently, direct sunlight can effectively “blind” the camera — making it impossible to identify what the operator is doing. Without that information, the car is forced to shut down the system.

“Just as the sun makes it hard for you to see what’s ahead of you, it does the same thing for a camera,” Sam Abuelsamid, an engineer and Navigant Research analyst, explained to the outlet. “It is a challenge.”

General Motors actually updated Super Cruise last year to help the camera cope with sunlight, but couldn’t quite manage to solve the issue entirely. That might make it sound like the automaker dropped the ball, but the truth of the matter is GM won’t be the only manufacturer that’ll have to cope with this. As true autonomous systems edge ever closer to reality, advanced cruise control setups will have to contend with the environments in which they’re placed. Sensors can become damaged and cameras can be blinded by sunlight, filth, or fog. There’s no way around it, especially if manufacturers want to engineer truly safe cars.

“You need to have multiple different types to make a really reliable system,” explained Abuelsamid. “These systems are progressing. They’re getting better. Increasingly, the industry is moving toward using driver-monitoring systems like Cadillac has done.”

From Automotive News:

Fixes for Super Cruise’s sunlight problem will be part of “significant changes” coming in the hardware for the next-generation system, said Daryl Wilson, GM lead automated-driving engineer.

Wilson declined to comment on timing or details of that system, but GM would likely want to launch the system as it begins rolling out Super Cruise across its lineup beginning in 2020.

“We are learning from this, and we’re going to make that availability much more robust in those situations,” Wilson said.

Abuelsamid thinks GM will have to change the camera’s location or implement some sort of diffuser that allows the camera to see when subjected to an overabundance of sunlight. “That’s not something they’re going to be able to fix with software,” he said. “That’s a flaw in the physical design.”

It’s better to deal with these teething issues while Super Cruise is limited to the CT6 and Cadillac knows it. The company has been very careful to roll out the system gradually, hoping to avoid some of the negative publicity that touched Tesla after a handful of Autopilot-related crashes.

[Images: General Motors]

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  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 01, 2019

    "Cadillac for sale. One owner. Never driven in sunlight."

  • Saturnotaku Saturnotaku on Apr 02, 2019

    Sunlight can disrupt any camera-based system. I was driving a Subaru Outback (maybe a Legacy) with the first-gen EyeSight system. One sunny morning on an eastbound commute, the forward collision warning lights and buzzer came on completely unprovoked. The car in front was at least 4-5 lengths ahead. I'm guessing the glare of the sun hit the windshield and camera sensor at just the right angle to blind it and go into some sort of panic mode.

  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.
  • Pickles69 They have a point. All things (or engines/propulsion) to all people. Yet, when the analogy of being, “a department store,” of options is used, I shudder. Department stores are failing faster than any other retail. Just something to chew on.