By on April 1, 2019

cadillac super cruise

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.

super cruise label

[Images: General Motors]

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14 Comments on “Sunshine Can Sabotage Cadillac’s Super Cruise; GM Reportedly Working On Fix...”

  • avatar

    So GM’s looking for a fix for sunshine. Gee, guys, how about moving to Seattle? Cloud seeding? Nuclear winter?

    Seriously, people…just say no to the self-driving car stuff until the tech is perfected.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s an automatic touch-less car wash a few blocks from where I live. One fine afternoon I was waiting in line there and noticed the attendant was standing vigilantly next to the box where you swipe your card or drop your change. The exit door of the wash faces west.

      I got up to my turn to pay and the attendant said he was standing there to keep an eye on the robot wash because sometimes the direct setting sun confused it and it simply would stop between washes and refuse to operate.

      My point? The range of operating conditions for an automated car wash is much narrower than an automobile, and we still can’t get that perfect.

    • 0 avatar

      Clearly none of you have driven this car. I live in sunny California and have experienced this problem once. Right at noon with the sun coming in at just the right angle. A few miles down the road problem gone. Perfect notification of the problem. Seat vibrated alerted the system was going to disengage. Had plenty of time to take over. Non issue. If I had not taken over, car would have slowed down in the lane, come to a stop and call 911 stayting driver is incapacitated and provided my location. Simply a great system

  • avatar

    Self-driving systems seem to be like renewable energy. They only work well when you don’t need them. Really hot or really cold is when you want heat and A/C, but it is also when the wind seldom blows and/or the sun can reach the solar panel (under snow). Icy roads, lots of traffic, tired/intoxicated driver, dirty car (and windshield), blinding sun are when it would be nice to rely on a self-driving system, but are precisely the times when they are dangerous to use or just don’t work.

  • avatar

    I have to admit that increasingly brighter, whiter LED lights aren’t doing me any favors at night.

  • avatar

    A 737 Max without wings.

  • avatar

    “but it might only come with the next generation of the company’s semi-autonomous hardware. ”

    So… what happens to CT6 owners?

  • avatar

    The camera lens needs some adjustable foreskin.

  • avatar

    Does it immediately veer off and slam into a tree, killing all occupants? Because THAT’S GM quality.
    Ahhh GM, never change.

  • avatar

    “Cadillac for sale. One owner. Never driven in sunlight.”

  • avatar

    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.

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